U.S. quarantines 'chilling' Ebola fight in West Africa: MSF

By Jonathan Allen
A Doctors Without Borders health worker takes off his protective gear under the surveillance of a colleague at a treatment facility for Ebola victims in Monrovia September 29, 2014. REUTERS/James Giahyue

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mandatory quarantines ordered by some U.S. states on doctors and nurses returning from West Africa's Ebola outbreak are creating a "chilling effect" on Doctors Without Borders operations there, the humanitarian group said on Thursday.

In response to questions from Reuters, the group said it is discussing whether to shorten some assignments as a result of restrictions imposed by some states since one of its American doctors, Craig Spencer, was hospitalized in New York City last week with the virus.

"There is rising anxiety and confusion among MSF staff members in the field over what they may face when they return home upon completion of their assignments in West Africa," Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement emailed to Reuters. Doctors Without Borders is also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF.

Some MSF workers are delaying their return home after their assignments and staying in Europe for 21 days, Ebola's maximum incubation period, "in order to avoid facing rising stigmatization at home and possible quarantine," Delaunay said in her statement.

"Some people are being discouraged by their families from returning to the field," she said.

The governors of New York and New Jersey announced strict new screening rules at airports last Friday, including mandatory 21-day quarantines for any healthcare worker who had been treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

Only one person is known to have been quarantined as a result of the new rules, nurse Kaci Hickox, who was confined to a tent against her will for several days after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey last Friday. Hickox, 33, was returning from Sierra Leone, where she had cared for Ebola patients as an MSF healthcare worker.

Hickox, who tested negative for Ebola and says she is completely healthy, has strongly criticized the quarantine policy in New Jersey and then in her home state of Maine, where she was taken to finish her 21-day quarantine at home.

She went for a bike ride on Thursday, putting her on a collision course with Maine Governor Paul LePage, whose office said he would exercise his legal authority to keep her quarantined.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)