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Brits say “Ebola doctors are heroes, but keep away from me”

18 March 2015

Most UK adults would avoid doctors and nurses who have recently been battling the Ebola virus in West Africa, a poll by the British Red Cross has revealed.

Seventy two per cent of British adults believe health-care workers who have been treating Ebola patients should automatically have a period of quarantine.

A majority (56 per cent) worry that these health-care workers could spread the virus in the UK.

Stay away

Only one in three adults surveyed by the Red Cross (36 per cent) would be willing to speak face-to-face with someone who has recently returned from an Ebola-affected country. 

Three in ten would be willing to sit near them in a car or on public transport. Only a quarter of people surveyed said they would shake the hand of a returning aid worker. 

More than half of adults (55 per cent) wouldn’t do any of these. 

However, four in five UK adults (78 per cent) support and admire health professionals who work in Ebola-affected countries. 

This indicates that despite widespread news coverage of the Ebola outbreak, the nature of the transmission of the virus is still not fully understood. 

No need to worry 

Pete Jones, Ebola response manager for the British Red Cross, said: “The facts are that even if you have Ebola, as long as you are symptom free, you’re almost certainly not contagious – so no one should worry about being near someone who has simply been in an Ebola-affected country. 

“Doctors and nurses returning from West Africa have had colleagues express concern about them returning to work, and some were even unable to spend Christmas with their families. 

“It’s clear that fear surrounding Ebola is high. Although this is understandable given how deadly we know the virus can be, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the fact that the best way to reduce risk to the UK public is to focus on wiping out Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – which we are still some way off achieving.” 

Facing stigma 

All aid workers returning to the UK after working in an Ebola-affected country undergo screening for symptoms at the airport and are monitored for 21 days, the longest known incubation period for the virus. 

The British Red Cross has stringent safety protocols in place for all of its delegates working in Ebola-affected countries. 

David Ross spent six weeks as head nurse at the Red Cross Ebola treatment centre in Kono, Sierra Leone. 

He told The Independent about the stigma he and colleagues had experienced since returning to the UK. 

“You never know what a member of the public’s response is going to be,” he said. 

“When you tell someone where you’ve been sometimes there’s fear, they go bright red, and you have to tell them not to worry – ‘I’m not going to kiss you, we’re not sharing bodily fluids!’ 

“The British public are pretty well-sensitised to it, but there is a certain ‘not in my backyard’ approach from some: ‘Ebola is fine if it’s over there, but if you bring it back…’” 

Of the hundreds of British health-care workers who have volunteered in West Africa during the current Ebola outbreak, three have become infected with the virus, all of whom have returned to the UK for treatment. 

Two have been safely discharged and a military health-care worker is currently receiving treatment at the Royal Free Hospital in London. 

  • Please donate to our Ebola Outbreak Appeal 
  • Want to know more about Ebola? Read our Q&A 
  • Read the full story in The Independent
  • What’s it like to live with Ebola? Read more stories from West Africa
  • The Red Cross is marking one year since the declaration of the outbreak on 23 March with a multimedia package focusing on how we've been fighting Ebola and what it will take to reach zero cases.  

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