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Published on Oct 24, 2014
As the fragile health care systems of Sierra Leone and Liberia struggle to cope with the outbreak of Ebola, we today saw the death toll tragically passing the four and a half thousand level. So far the number of cases beyond West Africa has been limited and it is extremely important for strict EU-wide measures to be adopted to ensure that this remains the case.
The introduction of screening processes at EU airports and border control points is a vital step and the EU must therefore do more to encourage all Member States to follow the leading examples set by France and the United Kingdom in this regard. Protecting our own shores alone, however, is insufficient and more must be done to support efforts, including exit screening in West Africa itself.
Nigeria is a clear success story to be studied, as it has managed to contain the virus after its first known case. This success was largely thanks to the efficient process of contact-tracing that was implemented: a process which made it possible for over 800 known contacts of the patient to be identified, traced and tested. Such work requires relatively strong institutions, efficient cooperation between them and the resources to make that happen. These are all things that, sadly, West Africa is largely lacking and it is an area where the EU can be of assistance.
As a British doctor, I am proud that the British Royal Navy is en route to the region as we speak, taking medical equipment, personnel and helicopters by way of assistance. With just under 200 doctors and around 2 000 nurses in Sierra Leone and Liberia combined – the two countries that is – the support from the medical contingent within that mission will be a great asset. With this in mind it is interesting to note that there are currently 108 nurses from Sierra Leone working in the British National Health Service and it is at times like this that we see the difficulties that countries suffering from so-called medical brain drain can face. In the longer term it is key that the EU also continues to financially support the pharma industry to work for an effective vaccine for Ebola.