DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World leaders must immediately deploy civilian and military medical teams to fight the world’s biggest outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the head of an international medical charity said in New York on Tuesday.
The international response has so far relied on overstretched health ministries and nongovernmental organisations to tackle the exceptionally large outbreak of the disease, Medecins sans Frontieres President Joanne Liu told U.N. member states at their New York headquarters.
Liu accused world leaders of “failing to come to grips with this transnational threat,” and said they had “essentially joined a global coalition of inaction,” despite the World Health Organisation’s Aug. 8 announcement that the epidemic constituted a ‘public health emergency of international concern.’
Her remarks followed World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s declaration on Monday that many people were dying unnecessarily from a “disastrously inadequate response” to the disease and that wealthy nations ought to share their knowledge and resources to help African countries.
Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus for which there is currently no widely available vaccine or cure. Since the outbreak began in March, more than 3,000 people have been infected in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal and half of them have died.
The WHO set out a ‘road map’ last week on how to fight the outbreak. The virus, spread through direct contact with infected tissues and fluids, could infect up to 20,000 people and cost $490 million to control over the next six months, it said.
The MSF said transmission rates had reached levels never reported in past Ebola outbreaks, and NGOs and the United Nations could not alone implement the WHO Global Road Map to fight the spreading and unpredictable outbreak.
Any military assets and personnel sent to the region should not be used for quarantine, containment, or crowd control measures because forced quarantines have created fear and unrest, rather than stem the spread of the virus, MSF said.
Despite closing the border and stopping flights between Dakar and the capitals of other affected countries, Senegal reported its first case of Ebola last week – a 21-year-old Guinean who evaded border checks after returning from his brother’s funeral in Guinea.
MSF said field hospitals with isolation wards must be scaled up, trained personnel sent out, mobile laboratories deployed to improve diagnostics, and air bridges established to move people and material to and within West Africa.
Jorge Castilla-Echenique, Health Adviser at the European Commission’s humanitarian arm (ECHO), told Thomson Reuters Foundation that Ebola was now a question of international security and ECHO was pushing for military medical intervention, but he warned of the high costs involved.
“The European Commission wants [US] Army and Seal protection teams to come here and produce an air bridge to keep the health workers and aid flowing. I’m talking about a M.A.S.H. like operation,”said Castilla-Echenique, referring to US mobile army surgical hospitals that can serve as fully functional health facilities.
“The problem with the military is that a treatment centre [50 beds] may cost 7 million euros over one year. But if it’s done by the US military, it’s going to cost 70 million euros, because they are going to come with their own bubble so they won’t get sick,” said Castilla-Echenique.
“The clock is ticking and Ebola is winning,” said Liu of MSF. “The time for meetings and planning is over. It is now time to act. Every day of inaction means more deaths and the slow collapse of societies.”
(Editing by Tim Pearce)
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