China army medics join Ebola battle

Updated: 2014-11-15 07:29


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China army medics join Ebola battle 

Members of a PLA medical team pack their supplies in Beijing on Friday before setting off for West Africa. More than 200 medical workers and experts will help Liberia and Sierra Leone combat the Ebola virus, which has caused more than 5,000 deaths. WANG JING/CHINA DAILY 

163-member team will run hospital in Liberia

A 163-strong military medical team left Beijing for Liberia on Friday to bolster China's contribution to the fight against the Ebola virus in West Africa.

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It is the first time the country has sent a military group to set up and operate an infectious disease hospital overseas, and the facility will be run as if it were a People's Liberation Army battlefield hospital.

Liberia is the hardest hit country in the Ebola-stricken area. There have been 13,268 Ebola cases in the eight affected countries since the outbreak began, with more than 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

The PLA's medical contingent will operate a 100-bed Ebola hospital at a stadium in the capital, Monrovia.

"We will try to get the hospital running as soon as possible," said hospital director Wang Yungui.

The PLA 302 Hospital sent a 41-strong medical team to Sierra Leone on Friday, according to the PLA General Logistics Department.

China has sent more than 260 medical staff workers and experts to Ebola-affected West African countries, said Vice-Premier Liu Yandong, who saw off the medical teams.

The number will reach 400 by the end of this month and increase to 1,000 in the near future, making this China's largest overseas public health assistance effort, Liu said.

"I hope the medical workers and experts can bring China's experience gained through our fight against major epidemics such as SARS to those countries."

Fang Aiqing, vice-minister of commerce, said the government has taken the lead in responding to appeals for help from the affected countries and the WHO.

In addition to providing funds and food, China has also provided materials to affected areas such as protective clothing and goggles, sprays, gauze masks, body thermometers and temperature monitors.

The team is expected to stay in Monrovia for two months, and a total of 480 medical personnel will be sent to the hospital in three groups.

However, there will be only 163 Chinese personnel there at any one time, and this will not be enough to tend the 100 beds.

Wu Hao, deputy director of the hospital to be built in Liberia, said, "One of the challenges is to hire and train about 100 local staff members."

Most of the team members come from the PLA Third Military Medical University in Chongqing. The remainder are from the Shenyang Military Area Command.

More than two-thirds of the members took part in the fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake rescue, and peacekeeping operations in Africa.

The experience and lessons gained from dealing with SARS will help the team fight Ebola, Wang said. He added, "We will also use some Chinese traditional medicine methods to treat patients."

The hospital will meet the construction requirements for hospitals that treat infectious diseases. Buffer zones will separate areas that are clean, semi-polluted and polluted.

The team gathered in Chongqing on Oct 4 to prepare for the mission. Members received training in procedures for treating infectious diseases and information about Ebola, and took part in simulations, English lessons and physical conditioning.

To help the Chinese personnel become familiar with the local English accent, the hospital invited a n student who is attending Southwest University to practice with them.

The most tiring and important exercise involved putting on and removing protective suits using a strict protocol. The suits have 11 parts.

Song Caiping, director of the hospital's nursing department, said: "It takes about 40 minutes to put on and take off the suit each time, and we always sweat a lot. I can't imagine what that will be like in Africa's hot weather."

Although Song is relaxed about the dangerous task she faces, her 11-year-old son has been worried since he learned she would be fighting the virus in West Africa.

"He is very nervous and can't study or sleep well," Song said, with tears in her eyes. "Half the team members are women, and most have children. We have to tell them white lies. We say we are going on safari in Africa."

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