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Park honors Ebola relief team

President Park Geun-hye has awarded medals to 24 health care professionals for completing a nearly three-month Ebola relief mission in Sierra Leone.

“I was deeply touched to find out that so many health care professionals applied for this mission in spite of the potential risks,” Park told the health care workers during the ceremony at Cheong Wa Dae last Friday.

“We believe philanthropy requires courage. I am convinced that the completion of this mission has been indebted to your courageous decision to partake in it.”

Seoul sent a team of doctors and nurses, including those in the military, in three batches between late December and March to join the international community’s move to fight the deadly disease in West Africa. It was the first time the Korean government has sent an emergency relief team to fight the outbreak of an epidemic overseas.

The mission was officially completed in early April as the final group of medical staff members were released after a 21-day quarantine. “The team’s valuable experience (in Sierra Leone) will be used to strengthen local epidemic prevention programs as well as other medical relief programs for the international community in future.”

In January, Choi Young-mi, one of the doctors sent to Sierra Leone, tore a protective glove while drawing blood from an Ebola patient, just about four days after her arrival to the West African country. As her exposed skin then inadvertently made contact with the needle, she was sent to a hospital in Germany in case of an infection. Her test results turned out to be negative and she was eventually released.

“I was rather disheartened to leave Sierra Leone (without treating as many patients as possible) than worried about the possible infection,” Choi said.

The death toll from the deadly Ebola outbreak, which has been mostly confined to West Africa, exceeded 11,000, according to the World Health Organization.

By Claire Lee (