PARIS (Reuters) - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Thursday criticized the delay in repatriating a foreign health worker infected with Ebola in Africa after it took two days to fly out the infected French volunteer from Liberia.
A specially adapted aircraft was due in Monrovia on Thursday from the United States to take the female healthcare worker home to France after she was diagnosed with the deadly disease.
Operations director Brice de la Vigne said MSF wanted a medivac plane to be located in West Africa to deal with emergencies rather than having to arrange for one to fly over from the U.S. as it had to do in this case.
“It’s been a while now that MSF has asked the European Union and other states to put in place an efficient evacuation system,” he told a news conference.
“It’s just too long when you see that it takes 42 hours from the moment when a case is detected to when they are repatriated.”
De la Vigne declined to give details on the patient’s condition, but said very strict protection protocols had been maintained. Any additional preventive measures would only be taken once a full investigation into how she had contracted the disease was completed, he said.
The volunteer, the first French national and MSF’s first international staff member to catch the disease in the outbreak, was put in quarantine on Tuesday when early symptoms of the illness appeared.
She had been working directly in an isolation unit. She will be treated at a military hospital outside Paris, sources said.
MSF is the leading organization fighting the worst Ebola outbreak on record, with more than 2,000 staff members working across West Africa.
Healthcare workers account for hundreds of the infected in an outbreak that has already killed nearly 2,500 people and infected close to 5,000 across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
But most cases have occurred in government healthcare centers, often due to a lack of vigilance or resources to buy the protective equipment against the highly contagious virus, which spreads through bodily fluids.
MSF President Joanne Liu had previously warned that infection among its own staff could exacerbate the outbreak by spreading it further among the healthy.
The U.N. Security Council will convene on Thursday to decide if Ebola is deemed a global threat. If it does it may help push a coordinated strategy to handle the spread of the disease.
“There is a problem that the main actors can’t just intervene like that, so we have therefore asked armies who have a technical capacity to isolate cases and set up centres because bad centres make the epidemic worse,” de la Vigne said.
The World Health Organization has previously warned that the number of cases in West Africa could climb as high as 20,000 as ill-equipped governments in one of the poorest regions of the world struggle to contain it.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called Ebola a major threat to global security and announced a major expansion of his country’s role in stopping its spread, including deployment of 3,000 troops to the region.
“We are waiting for Europe which has been cautious until now,” de la Vigne said.
Editing by Tom Heneghan