The British nurse who caught Ebola and had to be flown back to a hospital in London to get treated plans to return to Sierra Leone:
“It's the least I could do to go back and return the favour to some other people, even just for a little while,” Mr Pooley told the Guardian.
“The more help they get the less chance there is they get sick. If they get sick they are just going to end up in a ward in Kenema with less chance than I had."
Usually, I am in favour of people being helpful. It certainly beats breaking into an Ebola treatment centre and stealing the mattresses. However, I feel uncomfortable about Western health workers going to Africa, catching a disease they catch only if they don’t take the necessary precautions, and then being flown out for treatment which is not available to their work colleagues in Africa. They have a “get out of jail” card that other nurses do not, and many have died as a consequence.
Furthermore, if Mr Pooley gets some other disease in Sierra Leone, will he be flown back to London again, and then fling himself back into his own version of helping in Africa? He seems to have a predilection for solo working outside well organised treatment facilities. There seems to be a very strong case for examining his skills at barrier nursing before letting him go anywhere. There is no specific treatment for the average African patient (as opposed to Western health visitor) other than standard nursing, plus precautions for staff. Bluntly, what can he do that an appropriately trained and managed West African nurse cannot do? His treatment costs and plane fares would probably hire lots of local workers, and would also pay for lots of rubber gloves which West African nurses lack, plus unpaid wages.
His nursing task is not a highly technical one, like sequencing the Ebola virus and checking the mutation rate. He will not be designing new drugs of the sort he took himself. He will not be guiding a computer-driven laser into an afflicted patient. All he will be doing is administering standard nursing care and, with any luck, avoiding getting and spreading the disease.
I am perfectly willing to accept European exceptionalism as a general principle derived from five centuries of notable achievement, but in this instance I think Mr Pooley should listen to his mother: she was very relieved when, as part of infection control, his passport was incinerated.