Is China’s Ebola pact with Sierra Leone at odds with the British Ebola Action Plan?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 September 2014

union jackOn the 23rd September, the British government published what it calls an ‘international call for assistance to combat ebola from the governments of Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom’.

But a day before that publication, the government of Sierra Leone had also signed what critics are referring to as a ‘duplicitous and shady pact’ with the Chinese to tackle Ebola.

china communist partyAlthough very little is known about the signed protocol agreement with the Chinese, observers in Freetown believe that it includes a ‘non-disclosure clause’ that is binding on both the government of Sierra Leone and the Chinese team working on the ground.

The secretive nature of the signed protocol has raised serious questions about the intentions of the Chinese, their modus operandi in delivering treatment, as well as their handling of Ebola patient case management in Sierra Leone.

Also, there are suspicions the Chinese will be carrying out research into the development of new drugs and treatment, without publishing or sharing the results with the government and local medical staff,  who are in desperate need of that knowledge to aid their understanding and learning.

As the Chinese mobile Ebola tests centres and military personnel arrived in Freetown last week, there are mixed feelings in Freetown.

Whilst many welcome the enormity of the help the country is receiving from the Chinese, there are fears in equal measure that, Sierra Leoneans may be used as guinea pigs for the trialling of new drugs outside the scope of Ebola without their expressed consent.

Can the government give collective consent on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone?

But according to Chinese media, it seems there is nothing to be suspicious about. It says that; “Speaking during the signing of the formal protocol of the newly arrived Chinese Medical Team in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Zhao Yanbo recalled the history of the SARS epidemic in China and the concerns of the Sierra Leone government for which they cannot afford to leave Sierra Leone fighting the Ebola outbreak alone. He said they would help provide the necessary network to help handle some of the major challenges with a view to ending the Ebola war in the country.”

“Deputy Director General of China CDC and Head of the Team, Gao Fu said the objective of their mission is twofold: to engage on infection prevention control to break the transmission chain of suspected cases and to provide effective service at Holding and Treatment Centres, and to support the laboratories.”

Sierra Leone’s minister of health and sanitation – Abu Bakarr Fofanah said that “the signing of the protocol is another landmark in the 40-year relationship between the two countries.”

chinese mobile ebola lab1The minister also said that “the Chinese contingent is a specialized body that would help assist the government in its effort to end the epidemic, hoping that the continued bilateral relationship between China and Sierra Leone will continue to grow from strength to strength.”

While the Clinical Protocol signed between the two governments may be totally innocuous, critics say that given where the country is with this Ebola crisis, and with international and public confidence in the government in short supply, details of the signed protocol should have been made public in a transparent manner.

So where does this Sierra Leone – China Ebola Pact, leaves the Sierra Leone – British Ebola Joint Action Plan that was announced by the British government, just one day after president Koroma signed the Chinese Red Book?

According to the published policy document outlining the British – Sierra Leone government Ebola partnership, it was the government of Sierra Leone that asked the UK for help.

It says: “At the request of the Government of Sierra Leone and under the auspices of the UN, the UK is co-ordinating the international mission in Sierra Leone to control, contain and ultimately defeat Ebola.”

chinese military ebola staffGiven the fact that there is now an agreement in place for the British to co-ordinate the international effort in managing the crisis, does it not therefore follow that, the UK Ebola team in Sierra Leone should be responsible for oversight of all clinical protocols and interventions being offered and delivered by the international partners including China? (Photo: Chinese ebola experts welcomed by president Koroma).

The British – Sierra Leone Joint Action Plan also says that; “The Government of Sierra Leone is asking friends in the international community to work with the UK in assisting millions of Sierra Leoneans in their hour of need.”

The document says that; “The UK and Sierra Leone urge international partners to contribute to this vital and high profile mission by funding extra beds and contributing staff. All commitments would be clearly badged.”

This suggests that all international partners – including the Chinese should be working under the auspices of a British-led UN command in Freetown to ensure a coordinated and unified response in the fight against Ebola.

But the signing of this protocol by the government of Sierra Leone, effectively by-passing the Sierra Leone – British Joint Ebola Action Plan, will be seen as duplicitous, and possibly counter- productive.

And it was in this spirit of partnership that the British government announced that; “The governments of Sierra Leone and the UK is inviting international partners and other donors to an international conference in London on 2 October 2014, to reflect on the scale of the challenge and discuss how the global community can rally to provide an effective international response.”

The British government says that UK military engineers and medics, alongside health and humanitarian staff, are already on the ground, working rapidly and closely with the Government of Sierra Leone and UN agencies to introduce decisive co-ordination structures, and to build effective medical defences against Ebola.

These include a dramatic escalation in public health provision and treatment facilities, with work launched by the UK to support a further 700 Ebola treatment beds, boosting the national total to more than 1,000 to reflect the expected trend in medical need over the coming months.

Each treatment bed is costing £100,000 for six months, including cost of construction and operating costs, salaries and protection equipment.

The UK government believes that Ebola can be defeated, if 70 percent of cases are isolated, and says that the British coordinated Ebola Action Plan is a vital and high profile response to what it calls a UN emergency.

International partners are being urged by the British to consider contributing medical staff, funding for beds and in-kind support to this mission without delay.

The British government also believe that the most urgent priority is for international medical and management teams to staff and run the new Ebola treatment centres, and urgently calls for more NGO capacity on the ground supporting work at the community level.

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