Experienced Whangarei emergency response nurse Donna Collins is heading for Sierra Leone to join an international Red Cross team responding to the Ebola crisis.

Ms Collins, a mother of four, left yesterday morning with Sharon Mackie, 45, a health co-ordinator for a non-government organisation in Wellington, as part of the international response to the Ebola outbreak.

Ebola has killed almost 1,000 people in the latest outbreak in west Africa. There is no vaccine, no specific treatment, and the death rate is 60 per cent.

But Mrs Collins is confident that she will be safe and will be calling on all her experience for her three-week stint in the crisis zone.


She said that, as a nurse and midwife, she had a passion for helping people.

"I'd like to think if the tables were turned, other countries would come to our assistance. I feel 100 per cent supported and safe, this kind of work is nothing new to me. I deal with bodily fluids on a daily basis, and I am trained and experienced in following proper procedure," Mrs Collins said.

Ms Mackie said she was keen to use her skills and experience to help stop the disease spreading further.

Their deployment was prompted by a request to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies by the Government of Sierra Leone and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

New Zealand Red Cross secretary general Tony Paine said Mrs Collins and Ms Mackie were courageous, committed and true humanitarians.

"We've been asked for help and our nurses have put their hands up. They are well trained, experienced, and prepared. They have an opportunity to really make a difference to people's lives," Mr Paine said.

Mrs Collins and Ms Mackie will join an emergency response team made up of Red Cross health professionals from Spain, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom, which will set up an isolation ward and provide clinical care to infected patients in Kenema, the worst-hit area of Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been declared an international health emergency by the WHO, with 1711 cases and 932 deaths.

The nurses will wear full personal protection equipment, from overalls and goggles to two pairs of gloves, aprons and gumboots.

They will then spend three weeks in quarantine before returning to New Zealand.