United Nations: Top UN officials have warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa “will get worse before it gets better” as they called for international action to deal with the crisis, saying misinformation about the disease will only exacerbate an already fragile situation.
“The fear factor plays a strong role in the crisis. I encourage the Member States and businesses and individuals as well, to take decisions based on scientific evidence, not on fear,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said yesterday during a high-level briefing here on the world body’s response to the unprecedented outbreak.
The latest number of Ebola virus disease (EVD) cases in affected countries Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, stands at 3,069, with over 1,552 deaths, making this the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.
An unprecedented number of healthcare workers have also been infected and died due to the outbreak.
World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said the current Ebola outbreak was the largest, most severe and complex ever seen in the 40-year history of the disease.
The outbreaks are “racing ahead of the control efforts” in the affected countries. The outbreak “will get worse before it gets better” and it requires a well-coordinated, scale up of response urgently, she said, adding tackling the outbreak requires creativity and culturally appropriate actions.
“Ebola is now being labelled as an African disease, this is not justified, this is unfair and uncalled for. The level of anxiety and fear is high worldwide because of the severity of the disease and there is a lot of misunderstanding.”
The three hardest hit countries are “isolated” and “marginalized” hampering efforts because WHO cannot fly in experts to help.
Early treatment has improved the prospect of survival and about 50 per cent of people infected survive, the UN officials said, adding that people must be educated about high risk exposures such as of unprotected care, unsafe burials, taking care of sick family members at home.
They said Ebola has become a global threat which requires urgent global efforts in solidarity with affected countries and efforts must be led by national authorities.
“We want to look at the vaccines, we want to look at medicines and identify those with good potential for preventing Ebola or for treating Ebola,” Chan said.
Stressing the “whole world is responsible and accountable to bring the Ebola outbreak under control,” Chan urged partners, non-governmental organizations and nations to come together to do more.
Eliasson said the outbreak is “more than a health crisis” and health systems in the affected countries are overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the problem.
These countries are finding it very difficult to cope with the outbreak and the international community must step up its efforts and help boost the capacity of the affected countries and their health systems, he said.
“As far as the UN is concerned, this is one of the most serious health challenges we have ever faced. The reality on the ground is no different from those caused by natural calamities and conflicts of great magnitude – and in some ways even more difficult with dire consequences in several other areas of society,” Eliasson said.
Eliasson noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a United Nations System Ebola Virus Disease coordination mechanism to be guided by leadership provided by WHO and Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Ebola David Nabarro.
“But we cannot do it alone. We need effective strategies, partnerships, and capacities. There cannot be any weak links in this operational chain. We also need to think in unconventional terms and demonstrate speed and flexibility in defining and executing our strategies,” Eliasson said.
Explaining that the UN is faced with severe strains on its own staff working in such difficult conditions, he said, “We may need to involve Member States in this coordination task. I recall the Tsunami in Southeast Asia and the Haiti earthquake when we had a more active role of Member States in those operations.”