International Ebola response "Totally, and lethally inadequate" says MSF

17 September 2014

The International President of Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Joanne Liu, has told the UN that the world must act now to fight Ebola or many more people will die and that the response remains totally and lethally inadequate. "More countries must deploy their civil defence and military assets, and medical teams, to contain the epidemic," she said.

UN member states failed to respond to her first speech to the UN Assembly in New York two weeks ago. She denounced the lack of deployment of resources, which has to-date relied on overstretched ministries of health and private non-governmental organisations, to tackle the exceptionally large outbreak. She made another speech on 16 September:

"Two weeks ago, I made an urgent appeal to member states of the United Nations in New York for your help in stemming the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Many other organisations, such as the CDC, the WHO, and the UN, have also described the unfolding catastrophe.

"Yet, since then, only a few countries have promised to deploy more hands-on capacity to the affected countries such as the United States of America, United Kingdom, China, France and Cuba, or the European Union. ... Today, the response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind, and I am forced to reiterate the appeal I made two weeks ago:

"We need you on the ground. The window of opportunity to contain this outbreak is closing. We need more countries to stand up, we need greater deployment, and we need it NOW.  This robust response must be coordinated, organised and executed under clear chain of command."

International response lethally inadequate

Despite repeated calls by MSF for a massive mobilisation on the ground, the international response has been inadequate, says MSF. MSF medical teams have been battling the outbreak in West Africa since March. Non-governmental groups and the United Nations cannot alone implement the WHO Global Roadmap to fight the ever growing and unpredictable outbreak. Transmission rates have reached levels never before reported in past Ebola outbreaks.

“Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it,” said Dr Liu. “Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat. The WHO announcement on 8th August that epidemic constituted a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ has not led to decisive action, and states have essentially joined a global coalition of inaction.”

Many countries possess biological threat response mechanisms, said MSF. They can deploy trained civilian or military medical teams in a matter of days, in an organised fashion, and with a chain of command to assure high standards of safety and efficiency to support the affected countries.

US and EU support

President Obama announced on 16 September an increased response, including sending around 3,000 US forces personnel command and control, logistics expertise, training, and engineering support. This will include building Ebola Treatment Units in affected areas, training healthcare workers per week and staff to care for healthcare workers who become ill. USAID is supporting a Community Care Campaign to provide protection kits for 400,000 of the most vulnerable households in Liberia at first, then spread out to the country and the region.

The EU Commissioners for Development, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, and Health, issued a joint statement following the High Level Event to coordinate the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa on 15 September. The statement expressed concern about the situation, welcomed the contributions made already by EU Member States and called on them to continue and strengthen their support, but gave no specific promise of further aid:

"The EU has increased its response on several occasions since the outbreak of the epidemic and has so far pledged almost €150 million to help the affected countries. This includes ensuring treatment for infected patients and measures to contain the epidemic, as well as strengthening health care systems and improving food security, water and sanitation.

"EU mobile laboratories are deployed in the region to help with the diagnostics and confirmation of cases and train laboratory technicians. Furthermore, Liberia and Sierra Leone will receive financial assistance through budget support to help them deliver health care services and bolster macro-economic stability in response to wider economic challenges arising from the crisis."

By Harry Wood

Further information

See the full speech to the UN of Dr Joanne Liu:

and the first speech:

More on the Ebola crisis:


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