Lucie Lecomte sends the link to this Macleans article by Helen Branswell of The Canadian Press: MSF request for military help exposes severity of Ebola outbreak. Excerpt:
Just two weeks ago the international president of Medecins Sans Frontieres insisted she didn’t want to be quoted saying military hospitals should be deployed to West Africa’s Ebola zone to bolster the woefully undermanned response efforts there — even though she herself raised the possibility.
Dr. Joanne Liu had just returned from touring treatment facilities MSF — also known as Doctors Without Borders — is operating in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are engulfed in the worst Ebola outbreak on record.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, she proposed tapping into military assistance, then quickly backed away when asked to be more explicit.
“I don’t want you to quote me on that, because I’m going to get killed by MSF,” Liu said, her comment revealing the tension that often exists between Doctors Without Borders and the world’s armies.
So it is all the more indicative of how dire conditions are in West Africa that Liu called on governments to deploy this type of expertise Tuesday when she addressed a special Ebola briefing for the United Nations. Without this help, Liu said, this outbreak will not stop.
“To curb the epidemic, it is imperative that states immediately deploy civilian and military assets with expertise in biohazard containment,” she told the UN.
“I call upon you to dispatch your disaster response teams, backed by the full weight of your logistical capabilities…. Without this deployment, we will never get the epidemic under control.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“This just tells you the extraordinary scale of this outbreak on the ground,” says Dr. Ross Upshur, an ethicist and global health expert who teaches at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“If MSF is willing to countenance assistance from military sources with the provisos they’ve already put in place, that just tells you how serious the situation is on the ground.”
The caveats Liu laid out were that any military assets and personnel deployed to the Ebola zone should not be used for quarantine, containment, or crowd control measures.
Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, applauded the MSF call, saying the military expertise with logistics — supply chains, transportation of goods and personnel — are needed in this situation.
“MSF continues to provide the most honest, blunt and informed assessment of where we’re at. Not just in terms of how bad it is, but what do we actually really need to do to contain it?” Osterholm says.
Should Canada deploy DART, its Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is often sent in response to natural disasters abroad? As of late last week sources suggested a DART deployment was not being considered. And late Tuesday, the government suggested it hadn’t been asked for this type of help — at least not by countries battling Ebola.
“Canada has not received a request from affected countries to send in the Disaster Assistance Response Team,” department spokeswoman Beatrice Fenelon said via email.
Stephen Cornish, executive director of MSF Canada, says the organization had been in ongoing discussions with the Canadian government about assistance it could offer.
Deploying military units is obviously a risky policy, redolent of the bad old days of gunboat diplomacy and sending in the Marines. But advanced nations tend to have pretty good logistics, engineering, and health systems, and they don't have to beg for stuff the way NGOs and poor countries do.