UNDP and the EU support the Governments of West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic

04 Aug 2014

imageA government health worker at the Kenema Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone attends to a victim. Photo: IRIN/Tommy Trenchard


West Africa is confronted with a “fast-moving, unprecedented outbreak” of the deadly Ebola disease accompanied by “unprecedented challenges,” but the head of the United Nations health agency told on Friday, 1 August 2014, Presidents of countries  affected by the most lethal strain of the virus that “when well-managed, an Ebola outbreak can be stopped.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) met with the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire in Conakry, the Guinean capital, on Friday to launch a new joint $100 million response plan intended to mark “a turning point” of an intensified international, regional and national campaign to bring the outbreak under control.

“The current outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” Dr. Chan said in remarks delivered to the West African leaders. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

“West Africa is facing its first outbreak of Ebola virus disease,” the WHO chief said. “This is an unprecedented outbreak accompanied by unprecedented challenges. And these challenges are extraordinary. West Africa’s outbreak is caused by the most lethal strain in the family of Ebola viruses,” she said. “The outbreak is by far the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of this disease.”

WHO has said to date, the current outbreak has caused the largest in terms of numbers of cases and deaths, with 1,323 cases and 729 deaths reported to date in West Africa.

The outbreak is also affecting a large number of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak. To date, more than 60 health care workers have lost their lives in helping others.

Some international staff are infected. These tragic infections and deaths significantly erode response capacity. Dr. Chan also said “the situation in West Africa is of international concern and must receive urgent priority for decisive action at national and international levels. Experiences in Africa over nearly four decades tell us clearly that, when well-managed, an Ebola outbreak can be stopped.”

The WHO chief said accurate and detailed mapping of the outbreak is urgently needed, as well as a dramatic increase in public awareness of the facts about this disease.

UNDP supports the Government of Guinea in the fight against Ebola with $ 200,000 to strengthen the coordination of national response through the establishment of a mechanism to daily information sharing at the national, prefectural and in border areas.

The European Commission is allocating an additional €2 million to respond to the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded. This brings the Commission's aid to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to €3.9 million. The additional EU funding will help contain the spread of the epidemic and provide immediate healthcare to the affected communities.

"The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost," said Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "I want to pay tribute to the health workers who strive around the clock to help the victims and prevent further contagion, often at serious risk to their own lives. The EU itself has deployed experts to the affected countries to help assess the situation and coordinate with the authorities. But we need a sustained effort from the international community to help West Africa deal with this menace".

The Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan in West Africa identifies the need for several hundred more personnel to be deployed in affected countries to supplement overstretched treatment facilities.

Hundreds of international aid workers, as well as 120-plus WHO staff, are already supporting national and regional response efforts. But more are urgently required. Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers. The plan also outlines the need to increase preparedness systems in neighbouring nations and strengthen global capacities.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of surveillance, particularly in border areas, of risk assessments and of laboratory-based diagnostic testing of suspected cases. Also highlighted is the need to improve ways to protect health workers, a scarce resource in all three countries, from infection.