The Ministry of Health’s director of emergency management is heading to West Africa to assist with the international fight against Ebola.
Charles Blanch will be one of the World Health Organization’s Foreign Medical Team coordinators in Sierra Leone, ensuring that offers of assistance from international teams are matched to current and future need on the ground.
“Since this outbreak began in West Africa a year ago, there have been more than 21,000 cases and more than 8,400 deaths,” says Dr Don Mackie, Chief Medical Officer.
“While the risk of Ebola arriving in New Zealand is very low, it is vital that we maintain vigilance at the border and across the health sector, and that the international response to the situation in West Africa doesn’t lose momentum.”
Charles Blanch says in his role with the WHO he’ll be drawing heavily on his experience in coordinating the national health response during the Canterbury earthquakes, as well as his training and involvement with the New Zealand and Australian Medical Assistance Teams.
“While I won’t be treating patients, I’ve had a taste of how challenging the situation is for healthcare workers. I recently completed an Ebola deployment course in Darwin, so I've had some experience of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in 35 degree heat,” says Mr Blanch.
“I've worked with the WHO previously, including a review of the effectiveness of Foreign Medical Team coordination during the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year.”
He’s spent the past six months coordinating health sector and multi-agency work, leading the team that is dedicated to ensuring New Zealand is well-prepared in the unlikely event of a suspected Ebola case.
“Having been part of the readiness activity in New Zealand, I really wanted to do something myself to help with the response in West Africa.
“Being involved in such a complex and changing humanitarian emergency is also an excellent opportunity for me to hone my Emergency Management skills, and in turn bring that knowledge back to my role in New Zealand.”
Mr Blanch will undergo four days of pre-deployment training in Geneva next week, before departing for Sierra Leone. The planned length of the deployment is three months. During this period the role of director of emergency management will be filled by former Police Commissioner Rob Robinson.
To date New Zealand has provided $5 million towards the international Ebola response. This includes:
- $2 million for the Australian-flagged Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Sierra Leone*
- $2 million towards the UN response in West Africa
- $1 million for WHO’s Ebola preparedness initiatives for the Pacific.
*The Government is facilitating the deployment of up to 24 New Zealand personnel to the Australian-flagged ETC over a period of six to eight months. The ETC is being operated by private medical company, Aspen Medical (Australia). The first contingent of New Zealand-based personnel – four registered nurses – are now in Sierra Leone completing their in-country training before they begin work in the ETC.
For more information contact Peter Abernethy, Media Relations Manager, 021 366 111.