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Security issues Hurdles to Swiss Ebola mission remain


A fact-finding mission will analyse the security situation in Liberia ahead of a possible Swiss mission

(swissinfo.ch)


Security concerns must be addressed through a fact-finding mission before Switzerland sends people to Ebola-stricken regions as part of a United Nations effort, according to Defence Minister Ueli Maurer.

Maurer told the Zentralschweiz am Sonntag and Ostschweiz am Sonntag newspapers that “the deciding factor in the mission is security,“ and not necessarily the fear of contracting Ebola.

He cited “civil war-esque conditions [in Liberia] involving child soldiers and the like” as concerns. In addition, he wondered what would happen “if white people suddenly show up and land somewhere in a helicopter”.

Therefore, Maurer said, it’s possible that Swiss involvement on the ground may not happen. On Wednesday, cabinet announced Switzerland’s provisional involvement in a larger UN effort in Ebola-stricken regions, pending an observer mission to survey the situation on the ground. Only volunteers would be sent on any such mission, cabinet said, adding that the focus would be on Liberia.

Epidemic fight ebola mission

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The cabinet has decided in principle to participate in a United Nations mission to fight the Ebola epidemic sweeping across West Africa.

An observer mission will be sent to the region shortly to establish how up to 90 volunteers from the Swiss army and three helicopters can help transport medical personnel and material, a cabinet spokesman said on Wednesday.

He specified that the Swiss team will not be involved in evacuating victims of the Ebola virus.

"Switzerland wants to help the population in the Ebola-affected regions with its expertise and its humanitarian support," the defence ministry said.

Priority is given to Liberia, a statement added. Preparations will be made jointly by the defence ministry and the Swiss Development Agency (SDC). 

The first Swiss volunteers, members of the armed forces and civilians, could be dispatched to the region in mid-November.

Parliament is due to discuss the mission during its next session.

Funds

So far, Switzerland has pledged up to CHF9 million ($9.5 million) for efforts to contain the epidemic and to boost the health system in the crisis region.

The Ebola epidemic is still spreading in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and the number of cases in West Africa will exceed 9,000 this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The death toll so far in the outbreak, first reported in Guinea in March, has reached 4,447 from a total of nearly reported 9,000 cases.

Plans have been made for the distribution of medical personnel, equipment and medication via a designated airway.

The observer mission ahead  of larger Swiss involvement must determine “whether we will be in a camp on location with other nations” or whether Switzerland would need to take along a separate security detail, Maurer said.

In addition, it needs to be determined where Swiss aid can best be integrated, and partnerships must be developed, the defence minister said.

“We need to know who those partners are, what infrastructure is present on the ground and how we might need to develop that.”

Because of the many questions remaining open, Maurer said it was impossible to say whether and when Swiss soldiers may take part in a mission to Liberia. 

Vaccine en route to Switzerland

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Canadian government announced it would send 800 doses of an experimental vaccine against Ebola to the University Hospital in Geneva for testing.

The Geneva University Hospital has said it will carry out a series of vaccine trials in cooperation with the World Health Organization.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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