EBOLA IN SPAIN: THE OUTBREAK AND BEYOND

Ebola Spain

Author – Daniel Stemler

The outbreak of Ebola, in the last several weeks, has thrust Spain into the spotlight. The Spanish authorities now are pointing fingers at each other without taking responsibility.

The Spanish nursing assistant, Teresa Romero, is the first person to be infected by the virus in Europe. She was one of the health workers who treated both Spanish missionaries who contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa and after they were transferred for treatment in Madrid, at the Carlos III Hospital.

In August, when the first Ebola infected patient, Miguel Pajares, 75, was transported to Spain, several doctors expressed their concern about the situation. They declared that Spanish hospitals were not ready to deal with the virus. Nonetheless the country’s health ministry tried to reassure the public by saying the risk of contagion is “very low, almost zero”. Unfortunately, Miguel Pajares died just some days after his repatriation.

Some weeks later the Spanish health ministry announced that they would be transporting another Ebola patient from West Africa to Spain. García Viejo, 69, was working as a missionary in Sierra Leone, when he contracted the virus.

The warning voices became stronger and stronger across Spain. Many health experts criticised the decision, reiterating the point that Spanish hospitals and health workers were not well enough prepared or equipped to treat Ebola infected patients. According to doctors and nurses from Madrid’s hospitals, the main problems were the “lack of information, resources and preparation”.

Apart from some briefings, they said they don’t yet have effective protocols in place, and moreover they hadn’t received any training. At this time the government should have reconsidered its decision. But despite the warnings and the experiences from the case of Mr. Pajares; the Spanish Ministry of Health went ahead with the decision to bring back the second missionary to Madrid without preparing health workers to deal with this extremely dangerous and contagious disease. Sadly on 25 September, García Viejo also died, setting in motion the frightening events that were just about to start.

Just some days later, when Teresa Romero, a nursing assistant who treated Mr. Pajares and also Mr. Viejo in the Hospital Carlos III, showed possible symptoms of Ebola, the officials of the hospital recklessly and irresponsibly sent her to her reference hospital outside of Madrid. After she tested positive for Ebola in the Hospital of Alcorcón, she was transferred back to the Carlos III hospital amid wide scale public panic.

Total disorganization and irresponsibility. That is how everyone described the situation. The next day, the general public and even representatives from the European Union obviously wanted answers, but the Director General of Public Health, Mercedes Vinuesa Sebastián and the Health Minister, Ana Mato Adrover, were unable to answer even the most basic of questions; who is responsible for controlling the spread of a possible outbreak of Ebola in Spain? How could, a theoretically prepared nursing assistant, get the virus? Is there any real protocol in the hospitals?

We’ve already got an answer for the first question, as Mrs. Mato Adrover has since been replaced by Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría as Head of the government Ebola crisis committee. For the second question, the Spanish government has been feverishly trying to blame Mrs. Romero herself for contracting the virus. According to the health counsellor’s view, Mrs. Romero made various safety errors and breaches of protocol whilst treating Mr. Viejo, and as a result, subsequently caught the virus.

In a recent report, Telemadrid, a local Madrid television channel, also blamed Mrs. Romero for contracting the virus.

They practically regurgitated the government narrative, and whilst some of the points they made were correct, the antecedent events and reactions of officials this appears as nothing more than a desperate attempt from the government to hide the truth.

To answer the third question, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff have already explained that an effective, operational protocol does not exist in Spanish hospitals. What they have is rather a ‘more or less explained’ protocol, which, as we can see, does not work.

However, despite the unprofessionalism of the Spanish government, the doctors and other health workers do everything in their power to overcome Ebola, without protocol, without training and without a responsible government response. The only good news is that Mrs. Romero is getting better and recovering on a daily basis and she has already given two consecutive negative tests for Ebola.

But the main problems still remain in Africa. Until the international community implements policies that will help change the terrible health and economic status of Western-African countries, Ebola will continue to spread. Reuters have said “A United Nations trust fund seeking nearly $1 billion for rapid, flexible funding of the most urgent needs to fight Ebola in West Africa has received a deposit of just $100,000 nearly a month after it was set up.” For a real solution, the international community has to concentrate its energy to West Africa where thousands of people fight for their life against Ebola, living in inhumane conditions.

Zainab Al-Deen

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