Kiwi pair head to Ebola crisis

Last updated 21:48 13/08/2014

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Two New Zealand nurses are en route to Sierra Leone to help fight the Ebola crisis.

Wellington health co-ordinator Sharon Mackie, 45, and Whangarei nurse Donna Collins, 48, will arrive in the African nation on Thursday (local time) where they will undergo four days of specialised training.

They will then spend three weeks helping to set up an isolation ward and provide clinical care to infected patients in Kenema, the worst-hit area of Sierra Leone. 

Following that they will move into quarantine in the capital, Freetown, for a further three weeks before they can return to New Zealand.

Their deployment was facilitated by the New Zealand Red Cross after a request for help to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) by the government of Sierra Leone and the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Worldwide a total of 1848 Ebola cases have been reported, with 1013 deaths, WHO said.

Mackie said she was keen to use her skills and experience to help stop the disease spreading further. 

“It’s what I’ve trained 18 months for. This is what the Red Cross is set up to do. There needs to be a global humanitarian response because the local health system does not have the skills or resources to cope.” 

Collins said she felt safe going and if the tables were turned, she would hope other countries would come to New Zealand's assistance.  

"I feel 100 per cent supported and safe, this kind of work is nothing new to me. 

"I deal with bodily fluids on a daily basis and I am trained and experienced in following proper procedure.” 

New Zealand Red Cross secretary general Tony Paine said the Kiwi nurses were taking a risk by going to a place where a deadly disease was present, but all possible precautions had been taken.

That included full personal protection equipment, from overalls and goggles, to two pairs of gloves, aprons and gumboots, he said.

"They would not have been sent if it wasn't safe for them to go."

It was essential they go as hospitals were critically understaffed and more people could be saved with proper care, he said. 

"The fact is that without proper healthcare, the mortality rate will be higher and the disease will be harder to contain."

It was believed to be the first time the New Zealand Red Cross had sent personnel to a disease crisis like this, but it had sent people to treat endemic disease, such as cholera or malaria, Paine said.

The Ministry of Health confirmed it was satisfied with the quarantine measures and the nurses will not present any risk to New Zealand.

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No Red Cross personnel had contracted Ebola since it began working in West Africa in March. 


- Stuff

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