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More hands-on help needed on front lines of Ebola outbreak – Part 2

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, says that in addition to getting military aid to help set up more Ebola isolation centers, the infected West African nations really need more support from volunteers who can staff new facilities. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the continuing challenges for health workers at the center of the crisis.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    For a closer look at recent calls for increased urgency in addressing the Ebola outbreak and at conditions on the ground in West Africa, we turn to Dr. Joanne Liu. She is president of Doctors Without Borders, an organization at the forefront of the effort to contain the epidemic.

    Dr. Liu, welcome.

    First of all, I have to say the number that jumped out at me today, this morning, was that 18 percent of the patients in Liberia infected with Ebola, only 18 percent of them are in hospitals or places where they can be quarantined. If that's the case, how do you hope to get control of this?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU, President, Doctors Without Borders:

    Well, we do hope if this can happen, only through mobilization and hands on in the field.

    That's the reason why, on September 2, in my new U.N. remark, I have asked for people to jump in and come with assets in terms of big work force trained, or ably trained, with chain of command who can work in isolation center.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we heard President Obama, and we referred to this last week — he said the U.S. military, he said, is going to build 17 new treatment centers in the region, 1,700 new beds. He's going the train, they said, 500 health workers a week. Does all that sound realistic to you?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Well, I must say that I have some reservations on those statements.

    I think that right now it's really difficult to find staff to be trained. The reality in the region — and these are very conservative figures, but there's 240 health care staff that have been infected. Half of them died. We know it's much more than that. So where will we find those personnel who will be willing to come? That's another question.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And where — where are those personnel coming from? Where are you looking for them, the health care workers?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Well, the work force right now is quite, I would say, dispersed.

    And many of them have, I would say, fled from health care centers because they are completely collapsed. We know that most of the hospitals, for example, in Monrovia are not working, except some small emergency facility for obstetrics. So, right now, the health personnel is not working. Some have been infected. And we don't know how many of them have been affected by Ebola so far.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So are you saying this pledge coming from the United States may not be something that can be fulfilled?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    I think it's going to be a real challenge, to say the least.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So what needs to be done? If it's not military — the U.S. is sending military in to do this work of building these centers. What is needed?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Well, what is needed, it's more than only building isolation centers, and then running away from it. It's to build isolation centers and then have a work force, an outside work force for the time being to come and staff those isolation centers.

    And this is why we asked for hands-on today in my remark, because if we don't staff new isolation centers, they will not work. They will not be able to welcome patients.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And so what kind of skills are you talking about? What are the skills that the people who would stay would need to have?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Well, basically, you need to have the skills of, I would say, a health care worker that can work with highly contagious diseases.

    So we're not talking about anything fancy. There's a routine. And this is why we talk about being rigorous and disciplined. But if you follow the rules, that's fairly easy. So anyone who can follow rules and be a bit psycho-rigid about it will manage.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you're saying this is — it doesn't take extensive training to learn how to do these jobs?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    It doesn't learn — extensive training in terms of — we're not talking about going to med school for five years. We're talking about a few days of getting, I would say, a training.

    And after that, what we should invest on is sort of what we call a more intense training inside, in an Ebola center or a simulation Ebola center.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The question I think on a lot of people's minds, though, Dr. Liu, is how do you persuade these workers to come and assure them they're going to be safe, that they're not going to get Ebola themselves?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Well, it depends about which type of worker you are talking about. But, locally, national staff, when you talk to our staff in our centers, they always say, please, keep Ebola out of my country, and this is why. That's the key motivation to continue and work and be at the front line.

    So I think that we have to appreciate, you know, that motivation from them. Regarding to international staff, the reality is, we don't need a specialist in virology. We need health care worker, nurses, doctors, but as well logistician, water sanitation staff, who will be able to run an Ebola center with safety, because the paramount, I would say, thing about running a center is protection of our staff.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But for those who come in contact with these patients, of course, there is some risk?

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    There is a minimal risk, but the thing is, if you are following the rules, you will decrease, I would say, dramatically the risk. But it's like anywhere where we go as MSF in the 67 countries, there is always a bit of a risk.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Medecins Sans Frontieres being the French name for the organization you head, Doctors Without Border.

    Dr. Joanne Liu, we thank you.

  • DR. JOANNE LIU:

    Thank you very much.

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