Supporting foreign medical staff deployed to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone

Published: 24 February 2015

By providing safe accommodation, staff transport to and from the EbolaTreatment Centres(ETC) as well as supporting preparatory training activities, IHP enables 168 health staff of the Cuban Medical Brigade to concentrate on fighting Ebola in five centres placed in areas most affected by Ebola. 

In light of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations in September 2014 requested the assistance of IHP to support incoming Foreign Medical Teams (FMT). The support includes sourcing of safe and secure accommodation in hotels or guesthouses, provision of Ebola Observation Units, transport between accommodation and workplaces, as well as facilitation of preparatory training of the FMT.

The main task of the IHP support to foreign medial teams (FMT) concentrates on facilitating the work of the Cuban Medical Brigade (CMB) of 165 health staff deployed for six months. CMB arrived in Sierra Leone on the 2nd of October and through the backing by IHP they were able to deploy to work at various Ebola Treatment Centers (ETC) in and around the capital Freetown and in Port Loko, a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Freetown. CMB is accommodated in hotels or guesthouses that have been improved to meet the safety and security standards required for foreign medical teams working as WHO Experts on Mission in fighting Ebola.

CMB staff is handling Ebola patients and despite wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a risk of being contaminated with Ebola virus, though low, is present. IHP has built Ebola Observation Units at the Cuban brigade accommodation to be able to isolate and observe staff showing symptoms of Ebola. As Ebola symptoms are similar to many other sicknesses, incl. malaria, which is very common in Sierra Leone, it is important to immediately isolate staff showing Ebola symptoms. The Ebola Observation Units are equipped with a bed, chair, table etc. as well as toilet and washing facilities and PPE for staff assisting the patient. This makes it possible to host and assist an Ebola suspected staff member until a test shows whether or not the staff member has Ebola; after which the patient either is transferred for supportive Ebola treatment or being released. The Ebola Observation Units are equipped to decontaminate staff assisting the Ebola suspected patient, to avoid any spread of Ebola virus should the patient have Ebola.

Before deploying to work in the treatment centers the Cuban staff undertook a variety of mandatory Ebola trainings, which IHP facilitated by organizing the venue, providing training equipment and other relevant materials as well as supplying staff transports.

When the Cuban brigade was deployed to the ETC, IHP expanded the support to include transportation between the five accommodations and the five centers, where the medical staff work in three shifts.

The IHP office in Freetown is staffed by a Team Leader from the lead agency, Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), two additional DEMA staff and initially also by a colleague from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). IHP funding is provided by DFID and DEMA. Shortly after deploying to Sierra Leone in October, IHP received requests for additional support which resulted in a number of other projects.

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