South Africa still contributing to the fight against Ebola

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South Africa’s wider health sector, including the military, has and is contributing to the fight against Ebola.

Earlier this month the SA Military Health Services (SAMHS) School for Military Health Training in Thaba Tshwane hosted an intensive two-day train the trainers workshop for Southern African Development Community (SADC) Inter-State Defence Security Committee Military Health Service Sub-sub Work Group.

The workshop and its presentation by South African military healthcare experts comes from a meeting last August of SADC’s Military Health Service Work Group. Realising there was a need to prepare and step up readiness in the face of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa the work group readily agreed because defence forces are, in many instances, called on as the first line of service when disasters strike.

The group that attended the Thaba Tshwane training session were doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians. Uniformed members from SADC defence forces and civilian medical personnel were also present.

SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Aubrey Sedibe said the presence of regional delegates reflected a collective concern and determination “to rapidly interrupt transmission of the Ebola virus that has hit countries in West Africa”.
“I trust discussions among you, sharing expertise and experience will be fully utilised in strengthening similar training. It is important that while this training will keep in mind the International Medical Health Practices, it must address the actual challenge we face in our continent and region,” he told delegates at the start of the workshop.

Another South African development in the ongoing battle against Ebola will see 23 local health works deployed to Sierra Leona as part of the African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA) initiative.

The group of 20 nurses and three paramedics will leave Johannesburg on Friday bound for the West African country which, along with Liberia and Senegal, was worst hit by the Ebola outbreak.

The deployment is the second for South Africa following an independent deployment on January 23. The first group is stationed at the Goderich Emergency Ebola Treatment Centre on the outskirts of Freetown. Since their arrival, the South Africans have seen six discharges and lost two patients. One 36-year-old man was a typical patient. He arrived with a confirmed Ebola diagnosis. He began treatment and then “crashed”, but treatment was successful. He recovered and was released, walking out on his own. The youngest patient so far has been a four-year-old boy. He has been moved from ICU and is now recovering.

The healthcare professionals stay in country for six months of service in AU supported treatment sites and when they return to South Africa they will undergo three weeks of observation before resuming normal duties.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “Whilst thankfully Ebola cases are decreasing, the South African effort implemented by Right to Care and supported by South African business and the African Union are able to address Ebola ‘fatigue’.
“South Africa’s involvement which began last year has been extensive and has included mobilising both a domestic response to prevent the entry of Ebola into South Africa as well as an external health and humanitarian assistance programme to support affected countries.
“The Department of Health mobilised cash and in-kind contributions amounting to almost R60 million. This has included setting up a NICD diagnostic laboratory which has tested more than 6,000 specimens of those suspected of Ebola infection. The laboratory teams rotate every five weeks and are also training local personnel. We have also provided 16,000 protection suits and have sent ambulances, scooters, drugs, generators, autoclaves for sterilisation and food.”