Norway sends out new ebola team

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The Norwegian health directorate had no problem assembling a new team of  health care professionals willing to travel to West Africa to treat patients suffering from the deadly ebola virus. The first team of around 20 doctors and nurses will travel on Sunday to Sierra Leone to set up a new medical camp to battle the epidemic.

Utenriksminister Børge Brende og Forsvarsminister Ine Eriksen Søreide markerte at Forsvaret og Ullevål universitetssykehus har ferdigstilt en evakueringsløsning for eventuelle ebolasmittede norske helsearbeidere i Vest-Afrika, ved bruk av Luftforsvarets Hercules transportfly. Her får de en orientering av Espen Rostrup Nakstad, leder for CBRNe-senteret ved Ullevål universitetssykehus, på Gardermoen flystasjon 27. oktober 2014. Foto: Astrid Sehl/Utenriksdepartementet

Norway now has experience in ebola evacuation procedures and is sending another 20 health care professionals to battle the deadly virus in West Africa. Foreign Minister Børge Brende was recently in Liberia himself, and has pledged millions in Norwegian financial aid to help ebola patients. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astri Sehl

Equipment was being mobilized this week for the camp that will be set up in Moyamba, about 120 kilometers eat of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Prime Minister Erna Solberg met with members of the group earlier this week to thank them for their contribution and wish them well, as they set off on the international medical mission under the auspices of British health authorities.

“I signed up because I’m a nurse and there are people there who are seriously ill and need help,” Solfrid Gjøvik Frestøy, age 51 from Oslo, told newspaper VG. She has more than 25 years experience in treating patients with serious infections and normally works as a nurse in the intensive care section of Norway’s national hospital, Rikshospitalet, in Oslo.

‘Have an obligation to help’
“This is all about taking responsibility,” said Solveig Hauge, a 42-year-old nurse from Bergen. told VG. She returned just last spring from seven months of working in Congo with the humanitarian organization Mercy Ships. Now she feels a duty to help ebola victims in one of the poorest areas of the world. “We live in one of the world’s wealthiest nations,” Hauge said. “We have an obligation help.”

Dr Sindre Mellesmo, age 59, will lead the team of Norwegians assembled from around the country. He most recently has been clinic chief in the emergency room at St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim, but has also worked on medical missions in Lebanon, Iraq, the Balkans and after the tsunami in Thailand.

“It wasn’t difficult to say ‘yes’ to this,” Mellesmo told VG. “For one thing, there’s a situation in West Africa that demands a huge contribution and we must also learn how to deal with something like this, also to prepare Norway for any epidemics in the future.”

Working with British authorities
Norwegian officials stressed that the team will be “well taken care of,” with Solberg and Health Minister Bent Høie admitting they were anxious over how many Norwegians would respond to the call for ebola assistance after a Norwegian doctor was infected with the virus herself while working in Sierra Leone earlier this autumn. She was quickly flown back to Norway and recovered.

“We thought it was a bit ambitious to try to put together four teams of around 15 persons each,” Høie told VG. “But we got a fantastic response and that makes me proud.” Solberg was also impressed by the numbers of Norwegian health care professionals who volunteered for service if needed. “That shows it’s not only the state that’s contributing funds, but there’s a large personal commitment to this ebola fight, too,” Solberg said.

The Norwegians will undergo more training under the direction of the British military at York in England before traveling on to West Africa. Norway has committed to send 200 health care personnel to Sierra Leone as part of an international agreement on ebola aid led by the British health authorities.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund