Aid agency Goal has hit out at the Government’s decision not to send Irish troops to assist in containing the ebola crisis in west Africa.
As deaths from the disease rose to close on 2,500 yesterday, Goal chief executive Barry Andrews said he could not understand why the Government had chosen not to deploy even a handful of troops to give logistical assistance to aid organisations working in ebola-stricken regions.
The decision was made despite a plea for international assistance by the UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon.
“We cannot simply take a defensive line on this,” said Mr Andrews, who returned recently from Sierra Leone, where Goal is helping to set up containment centres to try and isolate the disease.
“We cannot declare neutrality in the war against ebola. All the NGOs are working hard and, if this disease is not contained at source, it will spread further afield.
“If we don’t contain it there, we will face it here. This is a humanitarian crisis of enormous capacity.”
Mr Andrews said it was his understanding that members of the Defence Forces were personally amenable to helping out.
“Irish troops have just returned from the Golan Heights and they are used to putting themselves in harm’s way,” he said. “This poses a different challenge to them but they have the expertise that agencies like Goal need. We could do with even 10 or 15 Defence Force members to assist in the procurement phase of building containment centres.
“These guys are experts at getting things set up quickly in difficult and challenging environments. We need their help.”
Mr Andrews said that if the crisis is not tackled quickly and effectively, it could become endemic in west Africa.
At present, about 40% of cases in Sierra Leone are being treated in containment centres. Goal is working to increase that to 70%.
“If we do that, it means the number of cases will stabilise and then fall and there would be no more cases, but it is essential that we build more containment centres and we only have a very short window in which to do it,” he said.
Mr Andrews said Goal workers in Sierra Leone were not at the frontline of the ebola crisis and were at low risk of contracting the disease.
“It appears that the Government is saying that it is not safe to send in members of our Defence Forces,” he said. “That is a very negative thing to say and is very short-sighted and disappointing.
“If everyone took that view, we would all up sticks and leave.”
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