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Ebola Crisis Prompts Desperate Plea by WHO for More Resources

September 12, 2014

Sam Jones, The Guardian, September 12, 2014

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a desperate call for medical staff and supplies to help fight the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, saying it is “running short on nearly everything” from specialist doctors and protective suits to bodybags.

On Friday, the WHO said the disease has now killed more than 2,400 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and infected nearly 4,800. But it added that the true toll was likely to be far higher.

“The Ebola outbreak that is ravaging parts of west Africa is the largest, most severe and most complex in the nearly four-decade history of this disease,” said its director general, Dr Margaret Chan.

The disease, she added, was simply outpacing all efforts to manage it.

“Our response is running short on nearly everything from personal protective equipment to bodybags, mobile laboratories and isolation wards,” said Chan.

“But the thing we need most of all is people: healthcare workers. The right people, the right specialists – and specialists who are appropriately trained and know how to keep themselves safe – are most important for stopping the transmission of Ebola. Money and materials are important, but those alone cannot stop Ebola transmission.”

Calling for 500 to 600 foreign doctors – and at least 1,000 more health workers – to travel to the region, she said the WHO needed medical staff who were not only used to working under difficult conditions, but who also knew how to show compassion from inside a personal-protection suit.

The WHO’s appeal for more international help came as Cuba announced it would send 165 health professionals to support Ebola care in west Africa, making it the largest contingent of foreign medical staff so far.

The team, which will include doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, specialists in infection control, intensive care specialists and social mobilisation officers, will be based in Sierra Leone.

Chan praised the Cuban response, which she said, would make a significant difference in Sierra Leone.

“If we are going to go to war with Ebola, we need the resources to fight,” she said. “I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known.”

The Cuban medical staff, all of whom have worked in Africa, are due to arrive in Sierra Leone at the beginning of October and stay for six months. They have all worked previously in Africa.

According to the country’s health minister, Roberto Morales Ojeda, there are currently more than 50,000 Cuban healthcare workers deployed in 66 countries, more than 4,000 of them in Africa.

On Thursday, the microbiologist who helped identify the Ebola virus in 1976 said that a “quasi-military intervention” was needed to stop the epidemic.

Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the outbreak was now so bad that a UN peacekeeping force ought to be mobilised in Sierra Leone and Liberia, with huge donations of beds, ambulances and trucks as well as an army of clinicians, doctors and nurses needed.

“At the moment, I’m not so optimistic. I’m pessimistic about how to control it. It’s one thing to isolate patients or put a small village or town in quarantine; it’s another thing when entire countries are affected,” he said. “This requires a state of emergency and a kind of quasi-military intervention – and it’s not my style to exaggerate.”

Meanwhile, a group of British MPs has described the epidemic as an “avoidable tragedy” that underlined the vital need for Britain and other international donors to spend more on strengthening health systems in developing countries.

“The devastating ongoing Ebola epidemic in west Africa has served to emphasise the importance of establishing strong health systems,” said the Commons International Development Committee. “The apparent hesitancy and lack of coordination in the international response suggest that the global health system and emergency plans have failed.”

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This article was written by Sam Jones and global development correspondent from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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