Ebola medics worry about publicity

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Ebola medics worry about publicity

A team of local doctors and nurses will soon fly to Sierra Leone to help combat the deadly Ebola virus. But instead of promoting their volunteering to help in one of the world’s most dangerous countries, health authorities are urging the media to downplay the story and to not identify any of the 18 doctors and 27 nurses.

“There’s a high chance the rescue procedures will be badly affected if the medical personnel’s identities are made public,” the Ministry of Health and Welfare said through a press release Thursday.

The statement said that the entire crew of doctors and nurses share that sentiment.

“We gravely fear that they, their families and affiliated organizations will all be harmed” by excess publicity about their mission, the ministry said. “Until they return from their missions and everything is finished, please do not report anything personal about them.”

The announcement came after some local news outlets reported last week about one of the doctors to be dispatched to a country with over 6,000 Ebola patients so far. The death toll exceeds 1,260, according to data from the World Health Organization.

The reports dealt with matters ranging from his track record to his personality.

In response to calls from reporters, he reportedly said, “Please don’t ask personal questions. I’m sorry.”

Unable to get direct quotes from the doctor, the press relied on interviews with coworkers and insiders from the health ministry, which they claimed were close to him.

In 2009, when the country was on high alert over the spread of the swine flu virus, a doctor who treated infected patients at a local college hospital was showered with praise by the media for saving lives. But there was a backlash against his daughter, whose attendance at school was reportedly protested by parents of her schoolmates fearful that she may be infected.

Advocates of a high degree of confidentiality for the Ebola rescue team cite the 2009 case as a justification. But Noh Jin-cheol, a sociology professor at Kyungpook National University in Daegu, calls the recent measures an “overreaction.”

“As a member of international society, the government should take the initiative in widely promoting the emergency team,” Noh said. He believes the team and its work should be viewed with pride, not something to keep under wraps.

After receiving training in Worcester, England, the team will be dispatched to a British Ebola treatment center in Freetown on Dec. 21.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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