Kiwi nurse part of ‘special forces’ fighting Ebola

A New Zealand nurse has travelled to Ebola-ravaged West Africa to do some of the most dangerous and distressing work on Earth - collecting and disposing of the bodies of Ebola victims.

Guru Dev Singh, a Red Cross aid worker from Wellington, travelled to the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia last month. More than 4500 people have died from it in West Africa.

A recent CNN article described a typical day for Singh and the dead body management team, retrieving 10 bodies. "They're quite aware it takes only one mistake to be contaminated," Singh said. The bodies are highly infectious, as they release fluids that can transmit Ebola and must be quickly buried or cremated.

Armed with bottles of disinfecting chlorine, Singh and her team suit up in sweltering heat in layer upon layer of clothing to collect the corpses.

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They must meticulously disinfect the body and anything it may have come into contact with, while dealing with grieving family members.

Fellow Kiwi nurse Danielle Ballantyne recently returned from a Doctors without Borders mission to treat Ebola patients in Liberia. She used to call the teams "Special Forces".

"They have to deal with people dying in really, really awful conditions," she told the Herald on Sunday.


Danielle Ballantyne also helped to treat Ebola patients in Liberia.

"One body, she was face down with her arms under her and one of the patients had died next to her and there was faecal fluid. I don't know if she drowned like that ..."

Singh is no stranger to hostile environments, having taught doctors and nurses how to treat trauma in Iraq and Gaza. "The patients looked at me as hope, as making things better for them," she said in an article produced by the Red Cross.

When Singh's not on a mission for the Red Cross, she works as an intensive care nurse at Wellington Hospital. Her first dealings with the organisation were as a small girl growing up in Fiji, where the Red Cross taught her to swim.

Years later, at nursing school, meeting experienced aid worker Chris Ives prompted an interest in humanitarian work. She joined the New Zealand Red Cross's emergency response team in 1989.

Singh is one of four Kiwi Red Cross nurses to have travelled to West Africa, the other three recently returned from Sierra Leone.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said 47 New Zealanders are registered as being in countries with cases of Ebola: one in Guinea, two in Liberia, six in Sierra Leone, three in Senegal and 35 in Nigeria.

Ministry of Health director of public health Dr Darren Hunt said the risk of Ebola spreading to New Zealand remained "very low".

Sixty-seven people who had visited the affected countries had been screened at the border since early August. None of them were cause for concern, he said.

Hunt praised the Kiwi healthcare workers who put themselves in harm's way to fight the epidemic.

"They're doing a great job ... It would be unfortunate if there was any stigma around people who are working in west Africa because they are saving lives and they also know what precautions to take."