Teresa Romero, who became the first person to contract Ebola outside West Africa, is cured from the disease, after a 16-day battle for survival in Madrid’s Carlos III hospital. Spain is now confident of being declared Ebola-free by December. But the crisis has also had political side-effects. EURACTIV Spain reports.
The Socialist Party (PSOE), accused Ana Mato, the Spanish health minister, of “inappropriate” management of the crisis and fiercely criticized her over what critics described as a lack of clear and accurate information on the health crisis.
On 7 October, the European Commission asked for “explanations” from Spain about the circumstances surrounding the infection of the nurse.
Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government also came under heavy domestic pressure to explain how Romero had contracted the virus. Mato responded that the government had conducted itself “with absolute certainty, responsibility and transparency” in this case.
Rajoy, who also defended Mato’s management of the crisis, decided to set up a special committee to deal with the impact of Europe’s first case of Ebola. He admitted then that the situation was “complex and difficult”, but stressed that the government had a clear plan for what needed to be done.
Health trade unions complain
On the other hand, Spanish health sector trade unions complained about insufficient training to deal with Ebola properly, in particular, in the use of protection suits. Juan Carlos Mejías, leader of SATSE, Spain’s largest health workers union, told EURACTIV that they only had “15 minutes training”.
Labor unions also complained about the fact that Carlos III’s infrastructure for handling such diseases had suffered from recent cutbacks, and suggested that not all safety measures and World Health Organization (WHO) protocols were properly applied.
An investigation has been launched, to determine the exact reason the nurse, reported to have 15 years’ experience as a health worker, caught Ebola.
Madrid health chief apologies are “not sufficient”
Spain’s Ebola crisis also leaves another political wound open, after Madrid’s regional health chief, Javier Rodríguez (PP), accused Romero of concealing information from medics, and of being clumsy with her protective suit, when treating Spanish missionary Manuel García Viejo at Carlos III hospital, where she caught the disease.
García Viejo, who was evacuated to Spain from Sierra Leone, where he became infected with the virus, died from Ebola in September, in the same hospital.
“I know these are very tough moments for you and your family, and I understand that my words may have caused even more pain,” wrote Rodríguez in a public apology letter that was published by Spanish media.
But Rodriguez´s apologies may be insufficient. Teresa Mesa, Romero’s spokesperson, said “the political fight starts now”. “We are not satisfied” with Rodriguez´ apologies,” she said. Romero and her husband, Javier Limón, clearly want Rodriguez´s resignation. Both are planning to bring the case before a Spanish court.
Romero is cured, but will remain in hospital, closely monitored
Four blood tests over the past four days indicated Romero’s immune system had eliminated the virus, said Dr. José Ramón Arribas of Madrid’s Carlos III hospital, on Tuesday (21 October) .
“The criteria (of the WHO) for being cured have been met,” said Arribas, head of the infectious disease unit at that hospital.
The first blood test came back negative on Sunday, but a second test had to be conducted 48 hours later to confirm it. Arribas added that Romeo will no longer have to be kept in isolation, but will be closely monitored for possible side-effects of the virus, for at least two more weeks.
Romero, 44, tested positive on 6 October. She received plasma from a recovered Ebola patient, in conjunction with the experimental anti-viral drug Favipiravir, Spanish health sources said.
The two other people who were treated for Ebola in Spain, missionaries Miguel Pajares and Manuel García Viejo, both died at Carlos III. It was while she was cleaning out García Viejo´s room that Romero apparently got infected, although the exact manner in which the infection occurred remains unclear.
Spain could be declared “Ebola-free” in December
According to the medical team that treated Romero, Spain could be declared Ebola-free on 2 December, exactly 42 days after her recovery.
Speaking to El Pais, José Ramón Arribas said that the criteria to consider a country free of Ebola is 42 days, double the 21 days incubation period of the disease.
The Ebola epidemic, the worst since the disease was discovered in 1976, has killed more than 4,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria and has also spread to Senegal.
Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever spread through the blood, sweat or vomit of those infected, making those working directly with the sick among the most vulnerable to the disease.
The WHO believes it will take six to nine months to contain and may infect up to 20,000 people.
F14 of Liberia's 15 counties have reported confirmed cases. As soon as a new Ebola treatment centre is opened, it is immediately swamped with patients.
Liberia's government announced it was extending a nationwide nighttime curfew imposed last month to curb the spread of the disease.
There is not yet any macroeconomic analysis of Ebola's impact on West Africa, with IMF figures only indicating a modest decrease in growth for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But NGOs on the ground describe the situation as “catastrophic”.
The first case of infection with the Ebola virus in Europe took place in Spain.
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