Irish people struck down with ebola in areas ravaged by the infection may have to depend on other EU nations to bring them home.
Government officials confirmed the situation would be discussed at a high-level meeting of foreign affairs ministers across the EU in Luxembourg on Monday. While no set protocol has been finalised, the Irish Examiner understands smaller nations such as Ireland are pushing for a pan-European repatriation approach for any citizen struck down by the condition, which has a fatality rate of 70%-90%.
Among the options being discussed are that, in the event of an Irish person in a country overrun by the illness contracting ebola, authorities here will seek the help of larger EU nations.
This is because Ireland does not have the resources or expertise to organise a removal from rural areas of a poverty-hit nation.
Other options understood to be on the agenda are for any Irish victim in countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to be brought to specialist units in larger EU nations instead of to Ireland as part of a pan-common market region response.
It is as yet unclear whether the plan will be fully endorsed by larger EU nations such as France, Britain, and Germany which, due to the resources at their disposal, are likely to have to take most responsibility for the move. However, regardless of the options and despite the view of epidemiologist viral experts, senior government officials have privately insisted no Irish person who is infected will be left to fend for themselves abroad.
While accepting that “from a purely epidemiological point of view, you’re helping the virus to spread” by repatriating patients — an issue underlined by the US outbreak — Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the “difficult” option of leaving people where they were has to “be thought about”, but would not happen. He was speaking at an emergency Oireachtas health committee meeting on the issue.
Some 54 citizens live in the West Africa ebola hot-zone. Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said they had a real infection risk, as if they “get injured”, or go to hospital for any reason, they will come face to face with the virus.
The officials stressed that aid worker volunteers returning to Ireland after helping to fight ebola in the area were closely checked for any signs of infection.
Under current guidelines, they are asked to perform twice daily temperature checks and inform their GP for 21 days after returning, a “self-monitoring” approach officials insisted is safe. Meanwhile, despite calls for airport checks, Mr Varadkar said this may not be of use as — due to the long incubation period of the virus — “what will show up is people with coughs and colds”. He said international advice remains that departure airports checks are better for tackling the outbreak.
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