By Christie Duffy
As the CDC reports that the number of Ebola cases in West Africa continues to climb, aid groups are pleading for more volunteers.
But doctors are now increasingly pulling out. The U.S. agency coordinating aid and volunteers says Gov. Chris Christie’s mandatory quarantine policy is to blame.
“When we saw the actions taken in New Jersey, in particular a number of U.S. aid implementing partners immediately had to withdraw their proposals instead of building or staffing saying instead of two to three treatment units we can only do one. Because so many doctors have backed out of going because if they don’t know what the situation is going to be like when they return it’s going to be hard to make that commitment,” said United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah.
Govs. Christie and Cuomo made the announcement on Oct. 24 that those who had come in contact with Ebola must be quarantined for 21 days after exposure. Christie has defended the decision saying his first priority is to protect those within our borders.
But since the policy change, the federal Agency for International Development says applications from health care volunteers have dipped by 17 percent.
“Any barrier to volunteerism is a concern,” said Doctors of the World Director of Communications Tamera Gugelmeyer.
Gugelmeyer is with Doctors of the World, an aid group fighting Ebola in some of the hardest hit West African countries. She says most of their volunteers come from outside the U.S., due in part to the quarantines.
“We are drawing health care workers, doctors and others from local populations. And also from other countries in western Europe in particular that aren’t facing the same quarantine issues,” Gugelmeyer said.
But not everybody is having trouble finding volunteers or supplies for that matter. In Secaucus there is a warehouse full of them waiting to be shipped over to West Africa.
Millions of dollars of gowns and gloves, beds and surgical tables have been shipped to West Africa by MedShare. Much of it is stored and sorted in Secaucus.
“This is actually very, very important for the Ebola effort over there,” said MedShare Northeast Regional Director Jim White.
The protective gowns donned by doctors and nurses to treat Ebola can cost between $30 and $50 each. The World Health Organization estimates that health care workers go through five to seven of the suits daily.
When asked how he gets the expensive equipment, White said, “They’re all donations. We get them from hospitals in the New York/New Jersey area, also medical supply companies.”
So far MedShare has shipped 27 40-foot containers to West Africa.
Both the World Health Organization and aid groups say they don’t expect Ebola to be brought under control until some time next year.