Health

Ebola quarantine of health workers without symptoms 'a disincentive,' Eric Hoskins says

Putting asymptomatic health-care workers into mandatory quarantine upon their return from Ebola-affected countries is not "good science," Ontario's health minister says.

Directive for paramedics coming shortly

Putting asymptomatic health-care workers into mandatory quarantine upon their return from Ebola-affected countries is not "good science," Ontario's health minister said Monday.

Eric Hoskins, who is a medical doctor with infectious disease experience in Africa and a PhD in public health, said he doesn't agree with measures that are being taken in New York and New Jersey.

"I disagree with the premise that quarantine of health workers who are asymptomatic upon return — I don't believe that that's good science and I think it actually discourages health-care workers from going to West Africa, which is how we're going to solve this epidemic," he said after question period Monday.

"This is a disincentive to them."

The governors of New York and New Jersey have been at odds with scientists over Ebola in ordering mandatory 21-day quarantines for medical workers returning from West Africa, even if they show no signs of the deadly disease.

A New Jersey nurse, who was the first person forced into a mandatory quarantine in the state, had protested being kept in a tent for two days and was talking about suing. The state Health Department said in a statement Monday that Kaci Hickox was to be released and taken to Maine, where she lives.

The state-imposed quarantines were announced after Dr. Craig Spencer returned to his New York City apartment after treating Ebola victims in Guinea. Before he was hospitalized with a fever, he rode the subway, went bowling and ate at a restaurant.

Forced quarantine of asymptomatic health workers returning from fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not grounded on scientific evidence and could undermine efforts to curb the epidemic, Doctors Without Borders said Monday.

"We need to be guided by science and not political agendas," Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. "The best way to reduce the risk of Ebola spreading outside West Africa is to fight it there. Policies that undermine this course of action, or deter skilled personnel from offering their help, are short-sighted. We need to look beyond our own borders to stem this epidemic."

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spoke in favour of the quarantines, stressing the need to be "proactive" and "better safe than sorry."

Ontario NDP health critic France Gelinas called on the Liberal government to provide paramedics with proper training and equipment to prepare for Ebola.

"Why was this government prepared to put our front-line health-care workers in harm's way without doing everything possible to keep them safe?" she asked the health minister during the province's question period.

Hoskins said he has set up a minister's advisory group of front-line health workers, including paramedics, and their first meeting was last week. A directive will be issued "shortly," he said later.

The ministry issued its directive to hospitals and other acute-care settings more than one week ago. Hoskins said the risk to paramedics and other first-responders is lower, which is why it was "imperative" to start with the hospital directive.

Federal and provincial governments have also announced funding to fight the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the worst affected countries in West Africa.

Co-ordination strengthened on Ebola preparedeness

The $5 million Ottawa announced in the spring has been spent. Another $52 million has been disbursed as of Friday:

  • $14.5 million to the World Health Organization.
  • $10.5 million to the World Food Program.
  • $9.5 million to World Food Program logistics.
  • $10 million to UNICEF.
  • $4 million to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
  • $3.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose, Dr. Gregory Taylor, chief public health officer of Canada, and their provincial and territorial counterparts held a teleconference on Monday to discuss Ebola preparedness.

"The group discussed ways to further strengthen co-ordination across all jurisdictions in the event a case of Ebola is confirmed in Canada," Health Canada said in a statement.

"This meeting provided the opportunity for ministers to discuss proposed revisions and implementation of the guidance in the context of their jurisdictions."

With files from CBC's Susan Lunn

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