After the Defense Ministry rejected a US request to establish field hospitals in the Ebola-stricken western African countries on Friday, the Foreign Ministry announced Sunday that it will dispatch three teams — in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) — to bordering African nations at risk of infection.
The three medical clinics will be established in three “periphery” countries in Africa, most likely Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Senegal, though the decision has not yet been finalized, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The move comes after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon rejected a request to dispatch military field hospitals to the afflicted areas on Friday, due to concerns that Israelis would be infected. Israel’s assistance was sought in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Following that decision, the Foreign Ministry decided to send in civilian aid, which, according to MASHAV head Gil Haskel is far more limited than the military resources. Israel’s “claim to fame,” with its past field hospitals in devastated Haiti, Turkey, Japan, Kenya after their respective natural disasters, were all military-run field hospitals, Haskel said.
Nonetheless, Haskel maintained that Israeli teams aim to treat the first cases of Ebola in those neighboring countries to prevent the disease from spreading — what he said is a “key element” in the international efforts to contain the disease.
MASHAV and the Foreign Ministry will set up three mobile medical clinics staffed by physicians trained to treat the deadly virus, and “will instruct the locals in the field to operate the clinic and its equipment,” according to a statement.
“In addition, the team will provide instructions to prevent the spread of the disease and to raise awareness” of the virus, the statement said.
Israel has already sent a medical team to Cameroon — where the virus has not yet been detected — as well as medical equipment to the Sierra Leone government and protective gear for African Union workers, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
However, upon a request from the UN Secretary-General, the World Health Organization, and various Israeli and international aid groups, the government decided to increase its support.
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has swept through Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and has stretched into Nigeria and Senegal. Nearly 7,500 people are believed to have been stricken by the disease and more than 3,400 have died, according to the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, Israel-based NGO IsraAID was on the ground in Sierra Leone last week as part of a national task force offering support to both health workers and the general population.
IsraAID has partnered with Sia Nyama Koroma, the first lady of Sierra Leone, as well as the ministries of health and social welfare in the country. They plan to lead training seminars with local social workers and health care officials, teaching tactics to help prevent trauma, manage stress and cope with the emotional effects of the crisis.
Organization officials say they are also holding strategic discussions with international health organizations to help curb the epidemic itself, and are specifically focusing their efforts on Liberia, where the lack of hospitals and clinics is making it especially difficult for doctors to contain the illness.
AP and Debra Kamin contributed to this report.