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Despite falling case count, Canadian military medics committed to Ebola response

01/29/2015 02:05 EST | Updated 03/31/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The commander of a team of Canadian military personnel deployed to West Africa says they remain committed to the fight against Ebola, despite falling case counts.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary O'Neil says the clinic in Sierra Leone where the Canadians are working has only one suspected patient at this point but may receive more today.

O'Neil says the Canadians, who started work at the Kerry Town treatment facility on Dec. 26, have seen a total of 36 suspected and confirmed Ebola patients since their mission began.

But he says cases have been dropping off since early January.

Operation Sirona, as the mission is called, will see Canadians working at the facility until the end of June.

But O'Neil suggests the mission may end sooner, if the Ebola infection rate has decreased and is manageable.

The task force includes 37 health-care and support staff personnel, most of whom are stationed at CFB Petawawa in Ontario.

The current crew is due to be relieved by a second team at the end of February. A third rotation is still planned at this point. Each rotation lasts 56 days.

O'Neil says the task force is considering whether to train staff for the third rotation, but that will depend on how much Ebola transmission remains when they are needed. Before being sent to the field, the personnel have to learn how to function in high-risk Ebola clinics, wearing layers of protective gear.

"As far as scaling back, I guess it really depends on the prevalence of Ebola," O'Neil said in a teleconference from Sierra Leone.

"I guess we don't want to lean too far forward and we want to make sure that Ebola is totally eradicated. I mean there are still pockets throughout Sierra Leone that are flaring up. So I think the government is standing fast with our current complement of physicians."

The World Health Organization says there have been 22,092 cases since the outbreak began, with 8,810 deaths.

It said Thursday that, for the first time since late last June, there were fewer than 100 confirmed new cases reported in a week. That was for the week ending Jan. 25.

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