UPDATED: Norwegian health authorities claimed they were ready on Monday to tackle their first case of ebola, after a Norwegian woman who works for Leger Uten Grenser, Norway’s chapter of Medecins Sans Frontieres, tested positive to the deadly virus. She was being flown to Norway Monday evening from her work in West Africa, for treatment in a special isolation ward at Oslo’s Ullevål University Hospital.
The woman, a doctor with the organization’s team in Sierra Leone, was due to land at the military portion of Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen and then be transported in a specially designed ambulance to Ullevål.
Anne-Cecilie Kaltenborn, secretary general of Leger Uten Grenser in Norway, said that all the organization’s routines will be examined carefully to try to find out how the woman, who isn’t being identified, was infected.
Kaltenborn said 22 Norwegian health care specialists have traveled to the affected areas in West Africa to help ebola patients. Of 16 locally hired workers for the organization who’ve been infected by ebola, 10 have died, she said. The Norwegian woman is only the second of health care workers who’ve traveled to the area for Leger Uten Grenser to be infected.
Confirmation of the first Norwegian to have fallen ill with ebola came just hours after three Norwegian government ministers announced plans to double Norway’s financial aid to the campaign to contain the spread of the potentially fatal virus. Norway’s defense minister had also confirmed that the Norwegian military was trying to ready a military transport plane to help with evacuations as needed.
It wasn’t immediately revealed how long the woman now ill with ebola had been working for the international medical aid organization in Sierra Leone. Kaltenborn said 14 of the 22 Norwegians taking part in the effort to treat ebola patients and contain the epidemic have worked in Sierra Leone and three are still there. The organization said the woman now ill was placed in isolation on Sunday after complaining of not feeling well and developing a fever. Tests conducted the same day confirmed she’d contracted the virus.
She was to be flown from the country’s capital of Freetown late Monday night and will undergo treatment at Ullevål, which has been training for months to handle ebola cases and has the medical equipment needed. Health Minister Bent Høie had said earlier in the day that Ullevål was ready to offer its isolation units to other countries needing treatment help, and that Norway was offering to send equipment to West Africa as well. Now there’s suddenly an urgent need to use it at home.
‘Always a risk’
“Leger Uten Grenser (Doctors Without Borders) has strict routines for the safety of our employees, both before, during and after their duty in a country hit by the ebola epidemic,” Kaltenborn said earlier on Monday. “These routines reduce the possibility of becoming ill, but there will always be a risk and unfortunately this also applies to our people in the field.”
A spokesman for Norway’s foreign ministry said the ministry was informed about the ebola case Sunday evening, although no mention of it was made at the ministers’ press conference Monday morning.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Rune Bjåstad of the foreign ministry told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday afternoon. “Together with the defense ministry and the transport ministry, the foreign ministry has supported the health ministry in its work to establish preparedness for the evacuation of infected health care workers.” He confirmed that Leger Uten Grenser was handling the transport of the woman from West Africa home to Norway, and that Norwegian health authorities “would receive her in line with the procedures that are established.”
Foreign Minister Børge Brende said that more than 7,500 people are now infected with the ebola virus and that “dramatic and fast” measures are needed in order to contain it.