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Ebola is not just 'somebody else's problem'

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The horrifying ebola epidemic currently running out of control in West Africa seemed a distant problem not too long ago. Voluntary organisations such as MSF and the World Health Organization had been warning for some time that it was rapidly turning from a largely healthcare problem into a social and economic catastrophe, but still it was happening to “other people”.

It was only when western voluntary workers became infected that it began to really penetrate our consciousness. Then a British nurse became infected – and fortunately survived – and the issue really hit home.

This weekend I received a call from a national TV news channel wanting to discuss whether British nurses should be able to travel to West Africa to help deal with the crisis when we have a nursing shortage in the UK. The conversation prompted me to check how UK nurse numbers compare with those of West Africa; I was surprised to find that we’re ranked 47th worldwide, with 54 nurses per 10,000 people – way behind Finland, which tops the table at 222, and runner up Ireland with 185.

But if you really want to talk about nursing shortages, look at the countries affected by ebola: the best resourced appears to be Sierra Leone, with four nurses per 10,000, while Liberia has just one.

The developed world has benefited from centuries of exploiting Africa – it would be nice if this crisis could galvanise us to give something back. That means we should celebrate the fact that over 160 NHS professionals have already volunteered to go out there during the epidemic, but once it’s over we should not simply walk away. The west must help these countries to prevent further outbreaks of ebola and improve general health by helping them to increase the numbers of nurses and educate their populations on how to protect themselves.

After all, it’s not just a moral responsibility – international travel means that if we don’t, ebola could one day be not just a catastrophe for people far away. It could land on our own doorstep.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • even though we will help ....it has been left too late...it is quite likely that ebola will land on our doorstep .....albeit referred to as "very low risk " ...are all health staff trained to deal with it ?

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  • Anonymous

    are the UK poaching African healthcare workers or are they coming of their own volition to learn new skills to take back with them? Probably a combination of both and some will choose to stay in the same way large numbers of our staff go abroad and choose never to return in favour of far better opportunities abroad in more sophisticated healthcare systems and as their skills and experience acquired abroad are not recognized or considered relevant to the closed shop of the NHS! Instead they chose to spend taxpayers money going abroad and recruiting often less experiences foreign nurses as cheaper labour! They have burnt their own boats and now have to suffer the consequences to the cost of the patients they are supposed to serve!

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  • Anonymous

    Ebola must be a horrendous disease to suffer or to die from.

    my heart goes out to the Spanish nurse who has caught the disease in the service of those suffering from it. She must have been part of a team and lets hope it will not spread further to other staff. Her dog and companion has tragically been destroyed and it was announced a few hours ago on LBC radio that her condition has deteriorated.

    We can only hope that the most appropriate and rapid measures that are humanly possible will be taken to contain this disease and identify the virus which causes it so that preventative measures and treatment can be found.

    Praise must go to all our selfless colleagues and all others involved in the coordination of their work and with treating and eradicating this devastating disease and scourge, and especially those who have volunteered to help all of our fellow global citizens in Africa right on the front line, all those who have lost their loved ones and must live in constant fear.

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