Ebola: A humanitarian disaster – Isabella Mosselmans – Sierra Leone

A stronger response is urgently needed to tackle Ebola in West Africa. Efforts to end the crisis have so far been inadequate. The virus will only be stopped if Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea receive the necessary resources.

“Ebola is destroying my community. Our people are suffering. The situation is causing more and more people to die from hunger, childbirth, diahorrea and malaria. Over 50 people I know have died. My 3 year old cousin survived Ebola but lost his uncle, mum and dad to the disease. I have also lost my brother and so many of my friends. Please, please tell people that the citizens of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia need more help. “
Mohammed Papa Bangura, 26, an aid-worker and radio-presenter based in Makeni, Sierra Leone

Last summer I spent 3 months living in Sierra Leone surrounded by a community of kind, inspiring and ambitious people. This summer I spent over 3 months feeling frustrated and helpless as I received countless phone calls from friends and colleagues, like Papa, explaining the devastation that their country is going through.

According to the latest WHO figures, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Ebola has killed 4,546 people and there have been 9,191 confirmed cases of infection. The number of Ebola cases in West Africa are currently doubling every month.

Oxfam has stated that it will be the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”unless we step up efforts to tackle Ebola.

The West needs to put things into perspective, wake up and send the necessary resources to the three countries worst affected by the outbreak. If we do not, we are in danger of costing thousands of lives.

Misperceptions in the media

In Europe and the US, a lot of the media discussion remains centered around a handful of cases in developed countries.   People need to realize that our focus should be on the people of West Africa.

While hospital procedures that failed in Dallas and Madrid need to be improved, a substantial outbreak in the West, where infrastructure and health systems are strong, is extremely unlikely. The virus is transmitted only by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is symptomatic. As both the Guardian and Financial Times have noted, “People in the US and Europe are far more likely to die from flu than from Ebola.”

West’s inadequate response

Nonetheless, in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the disease is a serious threat. Without the infrastructure and expertise, everyone in the region is at terrible risk of infection.

Both the WHO and the West have been widely criticized for their slow and inadequate response to the emergence of the crisis. While Medicines sans Frontiers warned in April that the disease was out control, it was not until August that the WHO declared a global emergency.

Furthermore, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the UN, has expressed that he was “bitterly disappointed” with the international community’s response to the crisis, which would have been different if it had emerged in the West.

“If the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently. In fact, when you look at the evolution of the crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe.” Annan explained.

Less that a third of the UN’s $1 billion appeal has been pledged. The Financial Times notes that the campaign to stop Ebola where the disease has taken root is currently “barely off the ground”.

More needs to be done:

Ebola has the potential to cause the death of many more people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – ruining their economies and citizens’ livelihoods. It has been warned that there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week by December. If the death rate remains at 70%, that will be 7,000 more women, men and children dying each week from the disease.

Aid agencies have also reported that the secondary impacts affecting the economy, education and healthcare systems are causing a severe increase in deaths from hunger, pregnancy and treatable diseases.   Quarantines have led to inflation of food prices, and access to usual medical treatment is increasingly difficult to obtain.

Christian Aid calls for scaled up, specialised medical care and training, rapid disbursement of flexible emergency funding, and support for addressing these secondary impacts.

The US and UK have recently made the largest efforts in terms of military deployments and money but many other states are still neglecting their responsibilities. Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, and David Cameron have noted that EU members such as Italy and Spain need to step forward with resources and act now.

The international community will be accountable for a substantial loss of life unless the medical and financial response to Ebola is significantly increased.

Please help by donating online at http://www.msf.org.uk/ebola.

This article, written by returned volunteer Isabella Mosselmans, was originally published in the Huffington Post on the 22nd of October.

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Ebola: A humanitarian disaster – Isabella Mosselmans – Sierra Leone

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