ARTICLES / Cambodia

The Khmer Times: “Cambodia-Based UN Staff Join Fight Against Ebola”

The World Food Program's office in Cambodia is sending two staff members to Liberia to fight the Ebola outbreak. (Photo: Jonathan Pannetier)

United Nations staff based in Cambodia were deployed to West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak there.

Two staff from the World Food Program (WFP) left Phnom Penh for Monrovia, Liberia on temporary assignments confirmed Jin Iwata, the donor relations officer at the WFP office in Cambodia.

The staff members, thought to be the Chief of Finance and a Logistics Officer, are expected to return to Cambodia in February, said Mr. Iwata. He would not confirm the gender of the two staffers, which countries they are from, or whether they will receive any special bonuses for the dangerous job.

The World Health Organization office in Phnom Penh has also sent one staff member to Ebola-stricken Liberia, said Vicky Houssiere, the WHO spokeswoman in Phnom Penh. The female WHO employee is an epidemiologist who volunteered to go to Liberia.

“It’s nonstop work. It’s very intense work,” she said.

The WFP is intensifying its operations in West Africa because the outbreak of the deadly disease has caused a food shortage. Ships delivering supplies, such as rice, are now reluctant to dock in the ports of infected West African countries for fear of infection, and because they face increased quarantine measures in their next ports of call.

In Liberia, the WFP is distributing food to people under quarantine and who are infected with the disease, as well as to communities hard hit by the outbreak.

Food was distributed to 297,000 people in October, according to the WFP’s website.

Mr. Iwata said that a key task of the WFP in Liberia is to prevent people from infected areas traveling long distances in search of food and so adding to the risk of the disease spreading.

“We are providing food assistance and distribution in markets, so people can just go from their house to the local markets, to prevent people from running all over the place,” he explained.

The WFP employees will be quarantined for 21 days prior to their return to Cambodia, Mr. Iwata assured a Khmer Times reporter.

The staff will be quarantined “on site or in a regional center”, such as in the WFP regional center in Dakar, Senegal, or in Nairobi, Kenya, “where they have specialized medical facilities,” Mr. Iwata said.

“When they come back from assignments there are very stringent measures,” he said. “They don’t get quarantined in Cambodia. It’s done abroad once they’re cleared to come back.”

The WHO employee will be quarantined at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, said Ms. Houssiere. She did not know when the staff member will return to Cambodia.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has not sent any staff members from Cambodia to Africa, according to the agency’s chief of communication Denise Shepherd-Johnson.

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