Healthcare

NGOs: Ebola doctors desperately needed

The pipeline of Ebola doctors and nurses in West Africa is still running dry even as money increasingly flows into the region, leaders of the nongovernmental effort warned Tuesday.

“We face a severe shortage of adequately trained health professionals, both national and international,” Rabih Torbay, a vice president of the nonprofit International Medical Corps, told a congressional panel.

International Medical Corps has about 900 workers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, about 90 percent of whom are African nationals. But Torbay said it has been extremely difficult to recruit volunteers to help stem the outbreak.

The top health official with the European Union also said Tuesday that thousands more doctors and nurses were crucially needed in West Africa, according to The Associated Press.

Torbay’s concerns echoed remarks from U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah last week. Shah said staffing was so low that the agency had to cancel plans for treatment units after some dropped out because of harsh state quarantines.

Training also remains a major issue, he said. Torbay stressed that Ebola doctors and nurses must receive hands-on training, not just “classroom study and Powerpoint presentations.”

The Medical Corps is one of more than a dozen organizations fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Ebola and one of the only groups helping to train other healthcare workers.

The calls for more healthcare workers on the ground comes as Congress weighs a whopping $6.12 billion funding request from the White House.

Torbay said he strongly supports the president’s request, but called for an additional $600 million to rebuild the countries’ healthcare systems.

Darius Mans, president of the nonprofit Africare, also urged Congress to approve the funding request, but said it needs to go directly into the affected communities.

“It’s not just more money that is needed, it’s important how that money is used,” Mans said.

The hearing is the third held by the African and Global Health panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the panel, used the panel to push his own $1.8 billion bill to bolster overseas support for African countries fighting Ebola.

Smith told The Hill that his bill, which has a Democratic co-sponsor, is expected to pass Thursday. He said he didn’t know whether the Appropriations Committee would combine that funding with the White House’s $6.12 billion request, or keep it separate.

He added that he has not heard opposition from his party on the White House’s funding request and expects Congress to clear the full package before the Dec. 11 deadline.

“That’s our hope,” he told The Hill.

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