William Pooley – Ebola Hero or Fool? | ActionAid UK

This week social media and news sites have been ablaze with debate about William Pooley – the British nurse brought back to London for treatment after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone.

ActionAid staff explain how to protect yourself from Ebola
ActionAid's public health campaigns in Sierra Leone and Liberia are helping people understand how to protect themselves from Ebola.

He’s been described in comments left on mainstream news sites as ‘foolish’, ‘selfish’ and in one particularly choice reaction as ‘SCUM, putting another country (the UK) at risk’. 

Thankfully there are also millions of people who see William Pooley for what he is: a selfless hero who made a measured decision to help where he could. 

William Pooley is a medical professional

William Pooley was not a ‘misguided gap year student’ looking for an ‘African adventure’ to tell his friends. He is a trained nurse, with a valuable skill to offer in a country whose medical capacity has been dwarfed by the Ebola virus.

He fully understood the risk he was putting himself in and made a measured decision to help, taking as many precautions as he could.

Working in the Sierra Leone government health system

William Pooley was already plugged into the government health system in Sierra Leone. He was based in Freetown for a six month placement at a hospice caring for people with HIV, cancer and TB. When he heard that there were health centres treating the Ebola epidemic, he went where there was greater need.

No risk to the UK

When William Pooley discovered he had contracted Ebola, he immediately alerted authorities and was placed in isolation – precisely what ActionAid and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have been telling anyone who suspects they have Ebola to do.

UK Government ministers and health officials agreed to fly him back to Britain after they decided there was “no risk” that his repatriation would cause an outbreak in the UK.

Pooley’s hospital bed is reported to be surrounded by a specially-designed tent with its own controlled ventilation system and only specially-trained medical staff are allowed to treat him. He is in the best and safest possible place.

On the frontline of the Ebola response

William Pooley is just one of many brave women and men working across the world in unstable and often dangerous environments. ActionAid’s local staff working on the frontline of the Ebola response in Liberia and Sierra Leone are among them.

The safety of our staff on the ground is always the top agenda item in our daily Ebola emergency response meetings. But for as long as they can, ActionAid staff will continue to roll out our public health programmes, educating people how to protect themselves against Ebola and delivering food aid to families who have been stigmatised by the virus or can’t reach the market because of strict quarantine measures.

Because of the expertise and skill of ActionAid’s local staff, I thankfully don’t have to travel to Sierra Leone or Liberia to make a difference. I have to focus on supporting our programme teams the best I can. But medical workers undoubtedly have tougher choices to make. Ebola affected countries are calling out for medical assistance. William Pooley responded to that call.

I for one commend him for it and wish him a full and speedy recovery.