Concern says Ireland took ‘excessive precautions’ against Ebola

Aid agency says overreaction of Irish authorities triggered by ‘huge media coverage’

Aid agency Concern Worldwide has criticised Ireland for taking "excessive precautions" against the threat of Ebola arising from an outbreak of the disease in west Africa last year.

Concern says the over-reaction of Irish authorities was prompted by “huge media coverage” of a few suspect Ebola cases in Ireland, which turned out to be negative.

The scale of the Ebola outbreak, which killed about 10,000 people in three west African countries before being contained, could have been prevented through quicker and stronger control measures, says Concern in a paper on its experiences fighting the disease.

There was great fear and ignorance in the western world about Ebola and this is probably to be expected in the face of a horrific disease that is poorly understood, it says.

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“Public health officials in many countries, including Ireland struggled to convey the low risk of community and individual transmission from imported cases in the face of extreme media attention and a politically charged backdrop.”

‘Family concerns’

The fear surrounding Ebola led to reduced applications for positions in the field and in some cases people turned down positions “in deference to family concerns”.

The paper is critical of a "lack of coherence" between the United Nations and World Health Organisation systems for combating emergencies. This led to a very type of humanitarian crisis for non-governmental organisations, with a lot of confusion over who was in charge and much duplication of roles.

Corruption and greed were factors prolonging the crisis, according to the paper. It cites the examples of “important people” in the affected countries jumping queues for beds and bribes being offered to evade the medical burial system.

UCD economist Cormac O Grada said fear had mobilised during the epidemic faster than the disease itself. Although the outbreak was largely confined to three countries, the fear it prompted was out of all proportion to the disease. This was more the case in the US, where at one point half the population believed a family member would contract Ebola, than in Europe.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times