Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Ebola reveals weak points in medical system

By Shan Juan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-08 08:35

US scientists told a workshop in Washington on Nov 3 that many questions about the Ebola epidemic, like the exact pattern of how the virus spreads, remain unanswered. Two days later, China announced it would dispatch more than 1,000 medical and public health workers to West Africa to control the epidemic.

One of the questions is how to secure the safety of Chinese medical helpers. The new teams of Chinese will be in addition to the 134 Chinese health personnel already working in the worst hit countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Since Chinese health professionals, including specialists, are working in quarantine centers, virus testing labs and hospitals taking care of the general health needs of the local people, they are at a high risk of being infected by Ebola.

Senior officials with the National Health and Family Planning Commission have pledged to fly back, if necessary, Chinese citizens who contract the virus for proper treatment. And the government has designated some top hospitals in East China to treat them.

A source who claims anonymity, however, revealed an obstacle in the process. "China doesn't have a negative-pressure airplane with an aero-medical biological containment system, essential to transport Ebola patients." To overcome the problem, the source said, China has to seek the help of other countries.

The Ebola outbreak has also prompted China to build a highly sophisticated bio-safety laboratory, known as P4, in Wuhan, Hubei province, to conduct research into deadly viruses, including Ebola. The government is known to be planning more such facilities given the fear of more epidemics in the future.

Starting April, China has sent four rounds of emergency relief worth 750 million yuan ($122 million) to West Africa and pledged more aid until the outbreak is controlled. China's quick response prompted Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma to thank the government and people of China for their assistance to his country in time of need. He said: "China has demonstrated to us that it is our special friend."

China has been in the forefront of the fight against Ebola in West Africa, with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praising the country for sending medical workers to the affected region in West Africa.

He, however, stressed that another 5,000 health workers from outside the region are needed to control the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has recorded more than 13,000 cases and almost 5,000 deaths, but warned that the real number could be much higher. The WHO and top UN officials have been appealing for funds and manpower to combat the epidemic. But until now, only 30 medical teams from across the world have reached the Ebola-hit areas.

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