By Staff Reporter
For China, the Ebola outbreak is a chance to demonstrate its commitment to Africa, the continent in which it is the largest investor. For a group of Chinese doctors from the elite 302 military hospital in Beijing who arrived in Sierra Leone’s capital last month, it is also a chance to test their skills against an unfamiliar foe.
China has had little experience with international medical deployments, although disasters at home, such as the Sars outbreak in 2003 or the Sichuan earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 people in 2008, have helped build the country’s emergency response systems.
A joint military-civilian medical team has converted the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital near the capital Freetown into a diagnostic centre with quarantine wards. Patients who test positive for Ebola are supposed to be transferred to nearby treatment centres, but delays in transport and overcrowding elsewhere mean the Friendship Hospital is now also treating some patients.
Since October 1, 97 patients have come to the hospital, of whom 41 have been diagnosed with Ebola and 19 have died. Most patients are adults, but some children as young as five have arrived with their families. Up to eight new patients arrive every day.
“We’re still receiving new patients, the disease hasn’t been controlled. I have to say the situation is grim,” Mu Jinsong, team leader, told the Financial Times by telephone from Freetown. “Western Sierra Leone, especially Freetown, has not seen any sign of decreasing cases. “
The team’s biggest frustration had been Sierra Leone’s lack of equipment, especially ambulances and protective gear, which must be incinerated after a single use, Dr Mu said. In a typical day, a doctor or nurse needs a suit for each of the three hour-long stints in the wards, while the disinfection team enter up to five times a day. “The need for them is enormous given the large amount of work we do. What is most needed is basic medical equipment.”
Track the outbreak’s spread since the World Health Organisation first issued a global alert in March 2014
There have been no known cases of Ebola among the estimated 10,000 Chinese workers employed in the three countries, nor among the Chinese medical teams. To date more than 400 local health workers in Africa have contracted the disease. Mr Mu said the Chinese team had stuck strictly to disinfection protocols.
“If we can do things scientifically, we can overcome our fear. As our work has progressed we’ve gone from being unfamiliar with it and feeling fearful to becoming familiar,” he said.
Dr Mu said he was proud his team had faced up to the stress of being far from home and working under poor conditions, building a sense of camaraderie to lift spirits. “Two nights ago we sang karaoke. Tonight we will eat hotpot. The other day we made dumplings together,” he recounted. “Most of us are aged between 30 and 45, so we interact easily with each other. It’s been very interesting.”