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Doctors call for urgent Ebola action

Thursday October 9th, 2014

Doctors at a world summit have called for urgent global action to tackle the Ebola virus threat.

The World Medical Association yesterday voted to back a proposal from British doctors.

It came as the British government announced it would be sending 750 members of the armed forces to Sierra Leone to help build treatment centres.

European officials meanwhile sought to calm alarm about the potential spread of the virus as details emerged of how a nurse in Spain became infected.

And the medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres, also warned that more effort is needed from the rest of the world to combat the epidemic.

Meanwhile the US announced it would be introducing screening of arrivals from affected West African countries.

The proposal at the World Medical Association came from the British Medical Association.

It called for the provision of the necessary supplies and training that those working on the ground need to manage the epidemic.

It also called for the WMA to strongly urge all countries, especially those not yet affected, to educate health care workers about the virus and to strengthen infection control methods, disease surveillance and contact tracing in order to prevent transmission within countries.

The BMA has also written to the Home Secretary to seek reassurances that UK-based doctors can return to their home countries to help provide much needed aid, without fear of their work permit being revoked.

A number of doctors based in the UK, originally from areas affected by the Ebola virus, have expressed a desire to return to Africa to help the medical effort there.

However, difficulties arise because doctors have visa problems if they travel overseas for longer than a month.

The BMA called on the international community to provide the necessary supplies of personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks and gowns, to protect healthcare workers and ancillary staff and reduce the risk of cross infection.

It also urged national and local governments to increase public communication about basic infection control practices.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA senior director, who addressed the WMA conference yesterday, said: “The current outbreak of the Ebola virus is proving more difficult to manage than previous epidemics and urgent action is needed to help contain it.

“Management of the virus is primarily through infection control, the use of personal protective equipment by health care workers and through the supportive care for sick patients. In order to prevent the virus spreading further it is vital that we stop it at the source.”

He added that it was vital that UK-based doctors were allowed to return to their home countries in West Africa to provide medical assistance without fear of penalty.

“It is also essential that we make it as easy as possible for doctors from West Africa working in the UK to be able to return to their home country for a defined period to assist with efforts to stem the spread of the epidemic,” he said.

“We urge the Government to make an exception to the immigration rules so that doctors are allowed to travel home for longer than one month without fear that their visa to work in the UK will be curtailed.”

World Health Organisation European regional director Zsuzsanna Jakab said healthcare workers were "on the front line" and needed to be protected.

She said: "Sporadic cases of Ebola virus disease in Europe are unavoidable. This is due to travel between Europe and affected countries.

"However, the risk of spread of Ebola in Europe is avoidable and extremely low. European countries are among the best prepared in the world to respond to viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) including Ebola.

"There is a risk of accidental contamination for people exposed to Ebola patients: this risk can be and must be mitigated with strict infection control measures. Health care workers are on the frontline of the Ebola fight and they are those most at risk of infection. They need to be protected and supported by all means."

Tags: Africa | Europe | Flu & Viruses | North America | UK News | World Health

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