Ebola Outbreak: UN Lacks resources to fight deadly virus

First published on bbc.com on 6 November 2014

The head of the UN mission charged with fighting Ebola in West Africa has told the BBC he does not yet have the resources necessary to defeat it. Tony Banbury said more help was urgently needed, despite significant contributions from the UK, China, Cuba and the US.

But he was hopeful of achieving the target of 70% bed space for new cases and 70% safe burials by December. The confirmed death toll is now 4,818, says the World Health Organization. The numbers are down since the WHO previously reported figures last Friday, as it says it has changed the way the figures are collated.

But it said in the countries worst affected by the outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – transmission remained “persistent and widespread, particularly in the capital cities”. 

In other developments:

  • West African heads of state are meeting in Ghana for a special meeting to review the regional response to the crisis.
  • The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, has announced an initiative to provide at least $450m (£281m) in commercial financing to enable trade, investment, and employment in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone

Mr Banbury was speaking at the UN headquarters for Ebola response in Ghana, which has not been affected by the epidemic, at the end of a regional tour. He told the BBC it was difficult to say if the spread of the disease was slowing as it was a “very mixed picture”

In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, there was a decline but there was “significant acceleration” elsewhere. The WHO says that of the planned 4,707 beds in Ebola treatment centres, only 22% are operational – blaming delays on insufficient numbers of foreign medical teams.

“The bed space issue is huge,” Mr Banbury admitted, but he said he hoped that by reducing the numbers of people becoming infected, the UN would eventually be able to reach its targets. He said his organisation did not yet have the capacity to defeat the disease.

“It’s not here yet. There are still people, villages, towns [and] areas that [are] not getting any type of help right now and we definitely don’t have the response capability on the ground now from the international community,” he said. At the same time, he mentioned contributions from the UK, which opened a new Ebola centre in Sierra Leone on Wednesday, and added that the US, China and Cuba had all sent significant numbers of soldiers or medics.

Body collectors like Mariatu Kagbo in Sierra Leone face a difficult task

Ghana’s Health Minister Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah has welcomed the recent progress made in the fight against Ebola but also warned that West African health systems will still need help in the longer term.

“We… must also look forward to the reconstruction of our countries in revamping the health infrastructure and the health system,” he said ahead of the meeting of the West African regional body, Ecowas, in Ghana……… Read more 

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