Doctors Without Borders has warned some mandatory Ebola quarantine measures in the US are having a “chilling effect” on its work.
The charity group has said it may shorten some assignments to West Africa as a result of recent state restrictions.
One of the charity’s volunteers, nurse Kaci Hickox, has defied orders by the state of Maine that she remain quarantined in her house after being in Sierra Leone.
There have been nearly 14,000 cases worldwide, but only nine in the US.
Doctors Without Borders – also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) – has 270 international and 3,000 locally hired staff in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
But the foreign workers now have additional concerns when heading home, said executive director Sophie Delaunay.
“There is rising anxiety and confusion among staff members in the field over what they may face when they return home upon completion of their assignments in West Africa,” she told Reuters news agency.
Some health workers are delaying returning to the US and staying in Europe for 21 days, she added, “in order to avoid facing rising stigmatization at home and possible quarantine”.
Some people are being discouraged by their families from returning to the field, she added.
Doctors Without Borders has 270 international and 3,000 locally hired staff in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone
Lawyers for Kaci Hickox, a nurse recently returned to the US from treating Ebola patients in Africa, have vowed to fight a court order that would enforce a 21-day quarantine.
Maine Governor Paul LePage said the state was willing to agree to arrangements that would have allowed Hickox to go for walks, runs and bicycle rides, but not allow her to go to public places.
The governor said discussions with Kaci Hickox, 33, had failed.
She says her freedom should not be limited when she is perfectly healthy.
People are not infectious until they show symptoms, usually a fever.
Another worker, Dr. Craig Spencer, travelled around New York City before he fell ill. He is currently in isolation in hospital.
After his case was announced, New York, New Jersey and other states ordered the mandatory quarantine of healthcare workers who had been exposed to Ebola patients.
President Barack Obama has warned that overly restrictive measures could discourage volunteering in West Africa.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the actions of US states ordering medics to be isolated.
Nurse Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, will be discharged after threatening legal action over her confinement.
Kaci Hickox said she was made to feel like a criminal after returning to the US on October 24.
She is free of symptoms and will be flown privately to her home state of Maine, New Jersey officials said.
The White House and mayor of New York have expressed concerns over new strict quarantine orders in several US states.
The new rules in New York, New Jersey and Illinois require a mandatory 21-day quarantine for all health workers who have had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa upon their return to the US.
The measures were announced after a New York doctor who had treated patients in Guinea fell ill with Ebola last week.
Amid criticism the quarantine rules were overly strict, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo eased the state’s restrictions on October 26.
Nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone
Now, returning health workers who have displayed no symptoms will be allowed to pass the quarantine period in their homes, will be allowed contact with their families and friends, and will be monitored twice daily. Compensation will be offered for lost earnings.
More than 10,000 people have contracted the Ebola virus, with 4,922 deaths, according to the World Health Organization’s latest figures.
All but 27 of the cases have occurred inside Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Separately on October 27, a five-year-old boy was being tested for Ebola at Bellevue Hospital in New York City after visiting an Ebola-stricken country and developing a fever, hospital officials said. Test results were expected later in the day.
In a statement, the New Jersey health department said Kaci Hickox had tested negative for Ebola on Saturday and had been free of symptoms for 24 hours.
Kaci Hickox arrived at Newark Airport on October 24 and was placed in isolation after developing a fever, the health department said.
“She was cared for in a monitored area of the hospital with an advanced tenting system that was recently toured and evaluated by the CDC.
“While in isolation, every effort was made to insure that she remained comfortable with access to a computer, cell phone, reading material and nourishment of choice.”
Over the weekend, Kaci Hickox, of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said she underwent hours of questioning at the airport before being transferred to a hospital isolation tent outside University Hospital in Newark.
She described the experience as “frightening” and a “frenzy of disorganization”.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had defended the state’s quarantine requirements.
Kaci Wilcox’s lawyer Norman Siegel said her isolation raised civil liberty issues given that she had displayed no Ebola symptoms and did not test positive for the virus.
“We’re not going to dispute that the government has, under certain circumstances, the right to issue a quarantine,” he said, adding that “the policy is overly broad when applied to her”.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has described Kaci Hickox as a “returning hero”, but said that she had been “treated with disrespect” when put into quarantine.
Nurse Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined on her return to the US from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has criticized the way she was dealt with at Newark airport.
Kaci Hickox, 33, said the experience was frightening and could deter other health workers from travelling to West Africa to help tackle the Ebola virus.
Illinois has become the third state after New York and New Jersey to impose stricter quarantine rules.
Meanwhile US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is to visit West Africa.
Samantha Power will travel to Guinea on October 26, continuing later to Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three worst-hit countries.
“For me the benefits of having first hand knowledge of what is happening in these countries gravely outweighs the almost nonexistent risk of actually travelling to these countries, provided I take the proper precautions,” she said on Saturday.
She said she hoped her trip would “draw attention to the need for increased support for the international response”.
The White House has expressed concern that strict quarantine restrictions such as those imposed in New York, New Jersey and Illinois could put off aid workers and others travelling to West Africa to help mitigate the crisis at its source.
More than 10,000 people have contracted the Ebola virus, with 4,922 deaths, according to the WHO’s latest report.
Only 27 of the cases have occurred outside Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Kaci Hickox, of medical charity Doctors Without Borders, described seeing a “frenzy of disorganization, fear and most frightening, quarantine” on her return from Sierra Leone on October 24.
Writing for The Dallas Morning News, Kaci Hickox asked whether fellow health workers would “face the same ordeal”.
Nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined on her return to the US from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone (photo My Space)
“Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?” she questioned.
Kaci Hickox said she was kept in isolation at the airport terminal for seven hours and given only a cereal bar to eat.
She also denied that she had had a fever, saying she was merely flushed because of the upset caused by her treatment at the airport.
Though Kaci Hickox tested negative in a preliminary test for the virus, she will remain under quarantine for three weeks and continue to be monitored by health officials.
Stricter quarantine measures were put in place in New York and New Jersey after a doctor, Craig Spencer, tested positive for the virus on his return from Guinea last week.
Dr. Craig Spencer is currently being treated at New York’s Bellevue Hospital in isolation.
The new measures mean that anyone who has had contact with Ebola victims in West Africa now faces a mandatory 21-day quarantine period.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced on October 25 that his state would start imposing the same measures, without providing further details.
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was not consulted over the new rules, which were ordered by the state governors of New York and New Jersey.
“The state has the right to make its decision, just like the CDC does, and we’re going to work with them,” he told reporters on October 25.
President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio and online address that Americans had “to be guided by the facts – not fear”, reiterating that people cannot contract Ebola unless they have come into direct contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids.
Barack Obama’s comments follow the release of the WHO’s latest report, which warned that the number of Ebola cases in West Africa could be much higher than recorded, as many families were keeping relatives at home rather than taking them to treatment centers.