By Natalia Alonso, Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy & Campaigns
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa will not be contained unless more is done to prevent new infections.
The UN is planning to tackle the illness by treating people already infected with the disease, tracing their contacts and ensuring safe burials, which is important. But Oxfam believes that more work needs to be done on stopping people getting infected in the first place.
In today’s extraordinary EU meeting on Ebola, Europe was more concerned about its border controls, rather than what it should be doing to contain the spread of the disease in West Africa.
Europe needs to get serious by deploying more medical staff and equipment as well as military personnel in the next two weeks. Otherwise, the EU will miss a very narrow window of opportunity to halt this epidemic.
The aid agency is appealing for more funds to help prevent the spread of Ebola which is ravaging the region. Infection rates continue to grow with the number of cases doubling about every 20 days. The World Health Organisation has put the death rate from this outbreak at 70% and has warned that there could be 10,000 new cases a week in West Africa by December.
The number of Ebola cases, and suspected Ebola cases, has now exceeded 8,000 and the outbreak has claimed 4,500 lives, almost all of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Up until now, the response from most EU governments has been woefully inadequate. While tackling the disease requires new, fully-equipped treatment and isolation centers, as well as medical professionals to treat Ebola cases, prevention of new infections must also be a priority.
We must break the chain of infection by equipping people with the means to protect themselves from contracting this deadly disease in the first place.
We have the expertise to help contain the disease, but funds, personnel and equipment are desperately needed to make this happen.
What’s Oxfam calling on Europe to do?
EU Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday in Luxembourg should provide the people, equipment and money required to save lives and bring Ebola under control. Ministers should agree to:
• Fill the human resources gap. This crisis requires not only money, but people. Ministers should commit to mobilizing and deploying greater numbers of specialist medical staff who can train health workers, as well as military personnel for their logistics capabilities. This military deployment is crucial to provide the surge in capacity in the time frame necessary to break transmission rates. Military engagement should be strictly coordinated with the UN and its partners.
• Ensure adequate financing, a reliable medical evacuation facility (medevac), and air-bridges are in place by 30th October, in line with clear targets outlined in the UN Global Framework.
• Provide assets to the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism voluntary pool.
• Provide air transport options to support medevac and other medical facilities to receive and treat international aid workers, regardless of country of origin, who may become infected as a result of their work in an Ebola treatment facility.
What’s Oxfam doing on the ground?
International agency Oxfam is planning to spend over €27 million to triple its programmes in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and plans to concentrate on reducing transmission rates. Although funding changes on a daily basis, it is nowhere near this target yet.
So far Oxfam has significantly stepped up its water and sanitation supply to Ebola treatment centres and community care centres, and its supply of hygiene materials, like soap and bleach, in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is supplying personal protective clothing for front line community health workers and burial teams, and training community health workers. The aid agency is also helping in the construction of treatment centres.
Oxfam is boosting its mass public information campaign over the radio, billboards and text messages about how people can best protect themselves from catching the disease.
The aid agency is also working on prevention in Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal, where there have been no widespread outbreaks of the disease.
However, in order for Oxfam to scale up its Ebola response, further funding is needed.
Enough Oxfam staff members with the expertise and knowledge to work on the Ebola response have stepped forward to volunteer to travel to the region to work on programmes. The major stumbling block to its deployment is a lack of funds.
Photo: A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a woman entering Mali from Guinea at the border in Kouremale. REUTERS/Joe Penney.