Relief groups decide whether to stay or leave Ebola-hit regions

Relief agency protocols

Catholic Relief Services has decided to keep its personnel in the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, while following enhanced sanitary procedures and restricting most travel, reports the Catholic News Service.

When the Peace Corps announced in late July that it was evacuating its 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea which were most affected by the Ebola virus, the action was far from a panic-driven decision, but instead followed a protocol.

A similar protocol for health and security risks has led Catholic Relief Services to keep its personnel in the same countries, while following enhanced sanitary procedures and restricting most travel.

In a globalised society in which millions of people regularly cross international borders, a coup, a virus, tribal clashes or a natural disaster can toss whole regions into chaos for business and vacation travellers, expatriates and volunteers. US-based organisations with employees or volunteers in global hot spots rely on multi-layered systems to provide up-to-the minute information, advice and, if evacuation is in order, logistical support.

For example, Pamela O'Connor, executive vice president of human resources for Catholic Relief Services, said her agency relies on a company called International SOS to provide constant risk monitoring, establish plans for a range of possible emergencies, provide security if necessary and get personnel out of a location.

Ongoing analysis has so far kept CRS employees on the job in the countries dealing with Ebola, because they work in projects that put them at low risk of encountering people infected with the usually deadly virus. CRS programs for education, nutrition and agriculture are continuing to operate, although employees have been given refresher training in disease prevention, taught about Ebola and provided with cleaning products to help fight the spread of germs. 

CRS has even expanded some programs in West Africa. An August 18 press release said CRS would scale up prevention, preparedness and disaster management in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and adjacent Ghana.

"We deal with crises every day," O'Connor told Catholic News Service in a phone interview, explaining that the U.S.-based relief and development organisation routinely keeps in touch with the State Department, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health and security agencies in every country where it has staff.

FULL STORY Ebola, war or disaster: how, when global service groups decide to flee (CNS)

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