Support for the Medevacing of WHO personnel from Ebola-affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia / World Health Organization - WHO/ August 2014 – March 2016

In the ongoing outbreak in West Africa, health care workers have been disproportionally affected by the Ebola outbreak with over 800 infected as of early January 2015. Since August 2014, the World Health Organization-WHO has incurred over $1,498,000 in costs associated with the medical evacuation of health workers diagnosed with Ebola. The ability to continue to fund these evacuations remains critical in ensuring the continued confidence of health workers in coming to Ebola affected countries.

WHO has committed to coordinating the medical evacuations of any patient with suspected or confirmed Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) infection who has been involved in the Ebola emergency response in West Africa either a WHO personnel or an international agency personnel.

The project’s main objective was to support the World Health Organization’s expenses related to the Ebola virus response, designated to the Ebola Response Fund.

The agreement signed between UNFIP and WHO was crucial in contributing to all elements of the response, in particular in enabling WHO to establish a fully functional Medevac process coordinated from the Organization’s HQ with dedicated focal points in each of the affected countries.

WHO managed to set up a global medevac team composed of four trained medical officers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with additional focal points in each affected country, ensuring a quick and successful medical evacuation whenever requested. This process included liaising with the agency that initiated the medical evacuation request, with local authorities to ensure safe transport to the nearest airport, with the health facility designated to receive the patient, and with the transport company assigned to transfer the patient. The global mechanism coordinated the medical evacuation of any patient with suspected or confirmed EVD infection who was involved in the Ebola emergency response in West Africa, including WHO personnel or international agency personnel.

The project allowed a quick and prepared response to the 45 requests of medevac and successfully carried out 28 evacuations: 9 international workers with confirmed EVD infection and 19 evacuations of international workers who had a high-risk exposure. There has been no medical evacuation since August 2015. The insurance provided by the medevac facility had a positive impact on the international health care workforce. Healthcare staff are now aware of their potential care and evacuation in case of infection. Without this system in place, WHO believes some international healthcare workers would not have applied for deployment in the field, which would in turn have severely curtailed the effectiveness of the response.

On December 29, 2015, human-to-human transmission linked directly to the original outbreak was declared to have ended in Guinea, while Liberia and Sierra Leone had both already made similar declaration earlier in the year. Nevertheless, it remained a significant residual risk of further outbreaks caused by the re-emergence of the virus that had persisted in a small proportion of survivors. The potential consequences of any re-introduction of EVD are considerable; however, robust systems are now in place in each of the three countries to ensure that future clusters are swiftly controlled.