Sweden gets it wrong in rejecting treatment for Ebola infected UNICEF worker

Swedish Social Services received a request yesterday to accept a UNICEF worker smitten with Ebola for treatment. They merely responded with a demand for more information and when they did not get that information they rejected the request.

They got it wrong I think.

I imagine the request was urgent in an effort to find a place willing and capable to treat the unfortunate UNICEF worker. The correct response should have been “Yes, in principle, subject to practical feasibility”. To note the limitations or constraints on what help could be provided would have been perfectly in order. But just a counter-request for more information would have been taken – and rightly so – as prevarication and a fundamental unwillingness to help.

I hope that some country with suitable medical services has accepted the unfortunate patient.

From my little experience of emergency situations, the bottom line is that emergency requests for help must be answered YES or NO, and not just generate requests for further information. A YES can – and must – be qualified with the constraints or limitations of what help can be provided. The requests usually originate from the “front line” (whether disease or earthquake or tsunami or typhoon) and it is unreasonable for those receiving requests for help, to burden those at the “front” with more bureaucratic requests for information. Responses must be for the sake of being helpful for those at the “front line” to take a call and make decisions and take actions. A response cannot be – as in this case – something which makes it more difficult for the “front line” to act.

(I would give Fukushima as an example. When the plant engineers and managers at the Fukushima nuclear plant requested permission from Headquarters in Tokyo to use sea water for emergency cooling – which they well knew would permanently disable the plant – TEPCO HQ responded by asking for more information. The “front line” at the plant knew they were no other options but the lack of clear response and unending requests for more information from Tokyo led to many hours (about 6 hours) being lost).

As a response from someone called the “Emergency Management Director” of the National Social Service Board, Sweden’s response left a lot to be desired.

Dagens Nyheter:

On Thursday, Sweden received a request to receive a suspected Ebola infected person who worked for UNICEF in Sierra Leone. But the reflection period was too short and the information was very sketchy and therefore rejected by the National Social Services Board writes expressen.se.

“We had no medical information in general, and requested it, but received no such information. Therefore it was hard to know what to say yes to and what to prepare”, says Johanna Sandwall, emergency management director on the National Social Services Board.

I would suggest that the National Social Services Board has not yet distinguished sufficiently between normal processes and emergency procedures. I take it for granted that Sweden, in fact, does want to assist and is probably among the more capable countries for treating patients.

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One Response to “Sweden gets it wrong in rejecting treatment for Ebola infected UNICEF worker”

  1. “Green” ministers in Swedish government off to a rocky start | The k2p blog Says:

    […] the African countries fighting Ebola. Unfortunately this was somewhat negated by the subsequent Swedish rejection of a request for treatment of an aid worker suspected to have been infected. She was not the one to make the rejection which was more due to a […]

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