On February 23, Japan’s Defense Ministry decided against dispatching a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) unit to join the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. The GSDF unit would have assisted international efforts to battle the spread of the Ebola virus by ferrying doctors and medical supplies.
The plan the Defense Ministry submitted to the prime minister’s office on February 18 called for 400 GSDF personnel to begin operations in April, with a possible Maritime SDF contingent to serve as base of operations. The GSDF would not have been involved in transporting Ebola patients. However, concerns about infection remained, and ultimately tabled the plan. There was also concern about scheduling and public opposition to such a deployment. According to Asahi, some members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s inner circle opposed the plan, “[questioning] whether there was any need for such a mission.”
Since the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa over a year ago, there have been nearly 24,000 cases and more than 9,600 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit.
Abe pledged 500,000 sets of protective gear for medical personnel in Africa last September, and Air SDF was used to transport medical supplies to Ghana in December. This was the first overseas dispatch of an SDF team to deal with the Ebola crisis and was conducted under the auspices of the Japan Disaster Team Relief Law.