President Park Geun-hye pledged to dispatch Korean medical personnel to countries hit with Ebola for the first time to counter the spread of the deadly virus Thursday at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Milan yesterday.
In a speech at the ASEM leader’s summit, Park said Korea “has decided to send medical personnel following humanitarian assistance to cope with the spreading Ebola virus.”
Korea already pledged $5 million in humanitarian aid to help prevent the spread of Ebola last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
That was in addition to $600,000 in humanitarian assistance pledged in the early stages of the outbreak via the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef.
In response to Park’s pledge, the government is expected to establish a Korean Overseas Disaster Relief Team (KDRT) that will be dispatched to West African countries with Ebola deaths such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
While Korea has sent rescue teams for natural disasters and large-scale accidents in the past, this would be the first time it will dispatch a relief team mainly comprised of civilian medical workers.
The team of at least 10 Korean medical personnel, including doctors and nurses, is expected to cooperate with American, European and non-governmental workers already deployed in the region, according to health authorities.
According to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States offered 65 medical personnel to be dispatched to Liberia while the United Kingdom pledged 740 and Germany promised 70.
Asian countries have pledged medical personnel too, with China promising 200 workers to Sierra Leone and Japan pledging to dispatch 24 workers.
The ministry said that over 2,500 medical workers are active in 12 Ebola-hit countries. This includes 600 workers from the WHO, 248 from France-based Doctors Without Borders and 150 from the African Union.
President Barack Obama has vowed a more aggressive stance to counter Ebola after the infection of a second American health care worker in Texas.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday held a phone conversation with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on the Ebola issue, and the Foreign Ministry on Thursday said that Seoul is prepared to take additional measures to curb the disease if needed.
But the sending of medical personnel to West African countries could worry the public amid alarm over the rapid spread of the disease, even in a developed nation like the United States.
There’s already a minor scare in Busan over an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference that is expected to have some 140 participants from Ebola-struck West African countries. It kicks off Monday for three weeks.
Some 28 participants are coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, all Ebola hotspots, and Busan residents fear the government’s preventative measures are insufficient.
The international conference is expected to be attended by more than 3,000 officials from 193 countries.
The Ebola outbreak has accounted for more than 4,000 deaths, according to the WHO. It is contracted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids from infected people or animals. This outbreak now has a fatality rate of 70 percent.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]