Turnout for aid team exceeds hopes

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Turnout for aid team exceeds hopes

Despite mounting concerns in Korea and many countries about Ebola and its spread, nearly 50 people had applied as of yesterday to serve as medical staff to be dispatched to West Africa, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday.

That figure is already four times the number of workers health authorities are planning to send, and competition is expected to grow.

Since Friday, nearly 50 people, including doctors, nurses and medical technicians, have volunteered. The ministry will admit applications until Nov. 7. The 10 people selected to fly to Ebola-stricken nations will be chosen based on their medical experience and foreign-language abilities and will be deployed with a dozen or so other military medical personnel, most likely at the end of November.

The government admitted that it had not expected such a turnout.

“We were worried because it’s difficult to organize a team if there aren’t enough applicants,” a Health and Welfare Ministry official said. “But once we started admitting applications [on Friday], dozens of medical experts applied, and many others are still calling us to inquire.”

After Ebola broke out in West Africa in March, approximately 700 doctors and nurses from the organization Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) visited the countries afflicted, and 270 still remain.

“We are fully aware of the risk of working in such an environment, but we have also compared the risk and the outcomes we could get,” said Secretary General Emmanuel Goue, of MSF Korea. “We will abide by strict medical safety regulations to minimize the risk.”

It is hoped that working to curb Ebola’s spread in West Africa will give medical experts the opportunity to learn about the medical technologies from more advanced countries and how to cope with new types of contagious diseases.

Precautionary measures by the government are also being taken. Four members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here will visit their U.S. counterparts in early November to be advised on how to prepare its medical staff before they depart for West Africa. The medical team will be trained in Korea.

The mission in West Africa will last for seven to nine months, after which medical staff members will be isolated for at least 21 days, even if they don’t show symptoms. If a team member happens to become infected, he or she will receive medical treatment either in the United States, Europe or Korea, depending on his or her condition and preferences. The Health and Welfare Ministry added yesterday that an advance group made up of civilian doctors, quarantine officers, military doctors and nurses will be dispatched early next month.

Related authorities, including the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense, have already selected those who will join the advance team. They are currently taking preparatory measures - receiving education and obtaining vaccinations.

BY KIM BONG-MOON AND PARK HYUN-YOUNG [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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