AGI welcomes recent international support to tackle the Ebola crisis in West Africa; but the disease is still moving faster than the response – more than a decade of progress is in the balance.
The Ebola crisis that is gripping Sierra Leone, Guinea and especially Liberia in West Africa is unprecedented in its scale and pace. The number of cases are now doubling every 3 weeks. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said yesterday, at the first ever meeting of the Security Council on a public health emergency, the "gravity and scale of the situation now require a level of international action unprecedented for a health emergency".
As one of the NGOs continuing to work in all three countries, AGI is seeing first-hand the effects of Ebola and the battle to stop its spread. We strongly welcome the recent announcements by the international community, and notably the UK and US Governments, to significantly step up support to the countries. But we remain concerned that the disease is moving faster than the response.
Each day many of those suffering with the virus are being sent home from health centres already overrun, thus spreading the disease further. It will take time for the new commitments to materialise, along with trained staff, and yet the number of the sick is rising exponentially and we are falling further behind as each day passes. As Gyude Moore, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Sirleaf has said in a powerful open letter: “From the look of things we might get about 1500 beds in three weeks - but I am afraid that by then we'll need 3000 to 5000. […]We are running out of time.”
Firmer and faster action is therefore needed urgently, with the next month seen as critical to bringing the disease under control.
Nick Thompson, Chief Executive of AGI said:
“We could be dealing with tens of thousands of cases by Christmas, or on some projections even worse. That is hard to comprehend in its scale and impact. Or we could be seeing the tail end of the crisis. The difference between tragedy and catastrophe is what happens in the next few weeks.”
As has been called for by other actors further necessary measures include:
- A rapid and considerable increase in the provision of isolation beds, accompanying supplies and trained medical staff within the next 2-4 weeks;
- Significant logistical support, including military assistance where called for by the national governments, as the US army is now providing in Liberia;
- Additional leadership and coordination support at the national and regional level – with clarity as soon as possible on the “regional operational platform” to be established under the new UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response;
- An air bridge to all three countries, the removal of travel restrictions as called for by the UN Security Council and the return of commercial flights as soon as possible – to enable the flow of essential supplies and for health workers, NGOs and businesses to travel.
Tony Blair, AGI’s Patron said after speaking with President Sirleaf of Liberia and President Koroma of Sierra Leone:
“The Ebola crisis is now a test for the international community to stand alongside Haiti in 2010 and Aceh in 2004. It is a test we cannot fail. The current response is welcome but more is needed, and quickly. The resolution adopted by the UN Security Council last night – itself unprecedented – is strongly welcomed, and words must now be urgently followed by action. If we do not do more, now, we will regret it for many years to come.”
AGI has worked with the Governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea for a number of years, and we would like to express our solidarity and sympathy with our counterparts in Freetown, Monrovia and Conakry as they struggle to contain the crisis. Our mandate remains to work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with colleagues, and we are proud to have been asked to continue working at the heart of government in the response effort. AGI’s support to our partner governments is small and focussed on coordination and management, it includes:
- Supporting the Incident Management System and National Ebola Coordinator, Tolbert Nyenswah, in Liberia
- Supporting the District Co-ordinator in the Western Area (Freetown), in Sierra Leone
- Working with the Ministries of Finance to analyse the policy and financial implications of the crisis and to support the efficient disbursement of funds
- Working the Health Ministries to remove bottlenecks to critical issues such as vehicles for burial teams
- Supporting the establishment of a “hotline” in Sierra Leone to enable citizens to access information directly, which now receives over 3000 calls a day.
- We are coordinating our activities closely with the necessary and much larger interventions by the international and NGO communities to ensure complementary efforts in the urgent fight to control the disease.
- We are also supporting the Governments to undertake analysis on the longer term implications of the crisis, for once the disease is under control will come the task of rebuilding their economies and health systems.
This work is supported by the Howard G Buffett Foundation, the Lao Niu Foundation and the Swedish Postcode Foundation.
Prior to the crisis these countries were part of the African success story: making real progress in building stronger societies. Sierra Leone was one of the top performers in the UN 2013 Human Development Index, and has more than halved the number of women dying during childbirth since the government introduced free healthcare in 2010. Liberia has doubled the number of children in school and almost tripled the length of the roads used by farmers to get their goods to market. Guinea has held its first democratic elections and the Government is getting to grips with turning natural resources into revenue that can help build public services.
Nick Thompson added:
“The advances made by these countries over the last decade have been remarkable and hard won. They should be known for their progress, not their pasts. But that is now in the balance. We cannot allow the clocks to be turned back on the people who have been working so hard to build a better future for themselves and their countries.”
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Picture credit: European Commission