A second team of South African health workers will head to Sierra Leone on Friday to help treat Ebola patients, the AU and the health department said.
The 20 nurses and three paramedics had already undergone two days of deployment training by the AU and health department officials, the AU and the department said in a joint statement on Monday.
They would receive two more weeks of intensive training when they arrived in Sierra Leone before starting their duties as part of the AU Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).
This followed the deployment of a doctor and 10 nurses from South Africa, through the non-profit organisation Right to Care, on January 23.
The first group was stationed at the Goderich Emergency Ebola Treatment Centre outside Freetown in Sierra Leone.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in the statement that while the number of Ebola cases was decreasing, South Africa’s efforts were helping to address Ebola “fatigue”.
“South Africa’s involvement, which began last year, has been extensive and has included mobilising both a domestic response to prevent the entry of Ebola into South Africa, as well as an external health and humanitarian assistance programme to support affected countries.
“… South Africa can be very proud of our courageous health care workers and all those that have supported the Ebola response as they assist fellow Africans to win the fight against Ebola.”
The department had mobilised support amounting to almost R60 million.
This included establishing a National Institute for Communicable Diseases diagnostic laboratory, which had tested over 6000 specimens for Ebola.
“The laboratory teams rotate every five weeks and are also training local personnel. We have also provided 16,000 protection suits and we have sent ambulances, scooters, drugs, generators, autoclaves for sterilisation, and food,” Motsoaledi said.
AU commissioner of social affairs Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko said the 835 African medical workers so far deployed by ASEOWA had helped reduce both new infections and deaths from Ebola.
“We are very proud that, together with the governments of AU member states, we are finding solutions to African challenges by Africans.”
Professor Ian Sanne of Right to Care said the South African team already in Sierra Leone worked long shifts each day, some of the time in full protective clothing and at other times doing laboratory work or other duties.
“They are learning to treat a highly infectious disease effectively. The knowledge they gain will be useful in knowing how to better treat other crisis outbreaks,” Sanne said.
The initial team from South Africa had already seen six patients discharged, while two patients had died.
One 36-year-old man, described as a “typical patient”, arrived at Freetown Ebola unit having been diagnosed with Ebola.
He began treatment and although his condition later “crashed”, as often happened with Ebola, went on to recover and was discharged, walking out of the treatment unit unaided.
A four-year-old boy was the youngest patient to be treated by the unit so far. He had been moved from the Intensive Care Unit and was recovering.
“The health care professionals stay in the country for six months of service in AU-supported treatment sites and when they return to South Africa they will undergo three weeks of observation before they can resume normal duties,” the AU and health department said in the statement. SAPA