MILAN, Italy ― South Korea plans to send medical workers to Africa to beef up its contribution to a global fight against the Ebola virus as fears grow over more potential cases and calls rise for sweeping action in the international community.
The decision was revealed late Thursday by President Park Geun-hye, who is attending the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan.
The Korean government plans to send about 10 health officials, her spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters. The timeline and the destination for the South Korean humanitarian aid were not immediately known.
Seoul will also host a high-ranking official meeting next year to discuss ways to curb the Ebola epidemic.
The plan for dispatching medical staff to Africa came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry requested a further commitment from South Korea during his phone conversation on Monday with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.
According to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, the two swapped views over global issues including the Ebola outbreak, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and an upcoming meeting of the two countries’ foreign and defense chiefs.
“There is more that needs to be done, and no single U.N. agency, no single country or NGO can meet the rapidly increasing demands alone. So we will continue to raise this issue,” Psaki said at a regular news briefing.
Seoul has so far pledged $5.6 million to help contain the spread of the deadly virus through the U.N., the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other organizations. Yet it is constantly receiving requests for additional support from international agencies, the U.S. and other countries, Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said.
It appears that President Park considered the matter’s urgency and made a swift decision, which also reflected such factors as the international community’s requests, the needs in the field, available resources and delivery methods, and the development of the crisis.
“The Ebola virus crisis is evolving beyond West Africa into one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the international community,” Noh told reporters.
“Considering the speed of its spread and the gravity of the damage, this issue will not be confined to the regions directly hit by Ebola but will threaten stability in the overall international community from which we ourselves cannot be free.”
Seoul officials had been cautious about dispatching a medical team to help treat the victims after a second hospital worker in Texas tested positive. A heightened sense of urgency swept through the world after she was found to have taken a domestic flight the day before being diagnosed.
On Wednesday, world leaders declared the Ebola outbreak the worst global health emergency in years, vowing further measures to combat the epidemic.
U.S. President Barack Obama urged his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy to “make a more significant” contribution to the crusade.
President Barack Obama speaks to the media about Ebola during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, with members of his team coordinating the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak. (AP-Yonhap)
Meanwhile, Rep. Woo Sang-ho of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy raised the need for state-backed medical research institutes to raise their virus study capabilities.
Virus research accounts for a mere 2.8 percent of the organizations’ collective budget this year, with only 2.4 percent of the entire workforce taking part, he said, citing documents submitted by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
“Viruses require long-term, constant research as it is difficult to forecast when and how they will break out,” the lawmaker said in a statement, calling for an upgrade in research infrastructure and systematic financial support.
By Cho Chung-un, Shin Hyon-hee