Where we stand‎ > ‎Media Releases‎ > ‎


posted 17 Aug 2014, 13:11 by Gerry Kangalee



The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) is very concerned about statements made by the by Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Colin Furlonge at a recent media conference dealing with the country’s readiness to meet the challenge of the Ebola disease. 

According to media reports, the CMO claimed that the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) at Mount Hope and the Caura Hospital have been “mandated to provide clinical services and quarantine” for anyone who enters the country with Ebola infection. 

Dr. Furlonge claimed that: “We’ve identified a 12-bedded area at EWMSC which will be used to triage suspected cases and we have identified two 24- bedded wards at Caura Hospital, which we will utilise if it is necessary at all, if we have to quarantine anyone.” Three rooms in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at EWMSC that would be capable of “providing isolation and care” have also been identified. 

The CMO went on to say that the Ministry of Health will be using newspaper advertisements as well as television and radio interviews with health officials to inform the public about the latest developments in the fight to contain Ebola. 

This media statement certainly raises a number of troubling questions. Managers and staff of the departments supposedly involved, inclusive of the Caura hospital, were not informed and were totally unaware of this development until it was reported in the media. Instead of those who would have to be on the frontline facing this threat being involved from the get go and being an integral part of strategising and planning the battle against Ebola, they, like workers usually are, are perceived as an afterthought. 
No one knew where the quarantine area is at Caura, or where the 12 bed treatment area is at EWMSC.
There has been no sensitising, preparation or training for those staff members who will have to interface with infected persons.
No one even knows what personal protective equipment is needed, far less being trained to use them. This also applies to the protocols that must apply in dealing with infected persons, especially as Ebola infection has such a high mortality rate.

Staff members are particularly concerned that no discussion, far less consensus, has taken place about what would occur if staff members become infected by this disease; what protocols would apply in terms of protecting their families from probable infection; how would it affect infected workers’ working conditions. 

The International Rescue Committee's health coordinator in Sierra Leone has said that damage to the health care system is the "biggest threat" that the Ebola outbreak poses to that country. The virus has already killed 10 percent of the medical staff in Kenema District hospital, Sierra Leone. In Liberia, 15% of those who have died from the virus were doctors or nurses who contracted it at work.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns it is not always possible to identify Ebola infection early because initial symptoms are non-specific. It is important, therefore, that health-care workers apply standard precautions consistently with all patients – regardless of their diagnosis – in all work practices at all times. The problem is that our health care workers have not been informed and trained. We are poorly equipped and insufficiently prepared. Those at risk are not limited to those who have contact with infected persons. Laboratory workers are also at risk.

The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) views the CMO’s statement as more a public relations gimmick than the announcement of a well-thought out medical strategy designed to tackle what could be a serious situation. 

The approach of the Chief Medical officer reeks of disrespect for health workers and betrays a lack of understanding that the very health workers who have not been part of the planning of the approach to deal with Ebola are the very persons who are expected to put their lives on the line to combat this disease should it enter the country. 

The announcements have caught everyone with their pants down and as it stands members of staff are not clear as to whether or not they are truly mandated to engage these patients and put their own lives at risk. 

The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) urges health workers, who may have to deal with the Ebola virus and who have not been trained to understand the protocols and to use the personal protective equipment, to put their safety and their families’ safety first and further urges them not to interface with suspected Ebola - affected persons until they are properly trained to do so. 


Nigel Small, Chair, North Central Branch of the National Health Workers Union @ 790-2983.