Ebola outbreak: no new medical personnel for now, Rona Ambrose says

The federal government won't send more experts to help contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa without a guarantee they can be medically evacuated if they get sick, Canada’s health minister says.

Drills underway to prepare for potential cases in Canada

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The federal government won't send more experts to help contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa without a guarantee they can be medically evacuated if they get sick, Canada’s health minister says.

The United Nations is appealing for more money and medical staff on the ground in the affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus has killed more than 4,700 people.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Monday she wants to provide more help.

"We are looking at options of sending personnel but at this time we are not going to be sending any more medical personnel until we feel strongly that we have a guaranteed medical evacuation," Ambrose said in Ottawa.

A health-care worker helps to adjust a colleague's mask during a demonstration of personal protective equipment procedures in Toronto last week. The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions wants health-care workers in all provinces and territories to use Ontario's new Ebola guidelines as a model if they ever treat a confirmed case. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ambrose said Canadian officials are working with the U.S. to find other possibilities.

Meanwhile, the Canadian authors of a new study on airport screening published in Monday’s online issue of the medical journal The Lancet concluded that resources would be better used to scale up treatment in the affected countries in West Africa, rather than entry screening.

"The highest impact thing we can do to prevent further transmission of this infection worldwide is to stop transmission of the infection at the source," said study author Dr. Issac Bogosh, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network.

The researchers estimated that based on current travel patterns, there is a theoretical risk of up to three infected people per month leaving west Africa, without exit screenings. But exit screening procedures such as temperature checks are in place in West African countries affected in the Ebola outbreak.

Elsewhere on Monday, the Canadian Federation of Nurses met with officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada about the agency’s updated safety guidelines for treating a confirmed case of Ebola, if and when a case were to arise in this country.

The guidelines fall short in areas such as the quality of masks available to nurses, said Linda Silas, the president of the federation.

Silas wants the federal government to rewrite the guidelines or she says nurses will consider their options as a last resort.

"We will work with managers and ministers of health to make sure we don't have to take our right to refuse [to work]," Silas said from Ottawa.

Preparedeness test drill

Silas also called for public education. For example, if someone travelled in the affected countries in West Africa or has been in contact with someone who has and starts to experience symptoms, she suggested they go to designated hospitals and identify their history to all health-care workers.

Earlier on Monday,  Dr. Gregory Taylor, chief public health officer, said the federal guidelines are continually reviewed and updated, based on lessons from the outbreak in West Africa and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidelines are highly technical, Taylor said, and offer guidance to provinces and territories on what to consider when training is provided to nurses and other front-line responders.

In Halifax yesterday and today, test drills proved successful, federal health officials said.

Taylor said that in Halifax, the team walked through the response in the event of a case in Nova Scotia. Other provinces have also asked for similar test drills, which are being planned.

"Drills, dry runs and practising are important to ensuring that our teams are able to respond without hesitation in the event of a case of Ebola," Ambrose said.

The decision to hold the drill in Halifax was communicated at the last minute to more closely resemble a real situation, Taylor said. Two of four Transport Canada planes were mobilized, one from Winnipeg and one from Ottawa.

Taylor also said the first of three shipments of a total of 800 vials of Canada’s experimental Ebola vaccine left this morning from Winnipeg for Geneva, where the World Health Organization is based.

In Canada, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola. An outbreak of the viral disease is centred in West Africa.  Nigeria and Senegal have now been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

"They were able to contain this very quickly with just basic public health measures, which gives, I think, all of us hope that this can happen," Taylor said.

The decision to hold the drill in Halifax was communicated at the last minute to more closely resemble a real situation, Taylor said. Two of four Transport Canada planes were mobilized, one from Winnipeg and one from Ottawa.

Tayloralso said the first of three shipments of a total of 800 vials of Canada’s experimental Ebola vaccine left this morning from Winnipeg for Geneva, where the World Health Organization is based.

With files from CBC's Susan Lunn

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