It’s been a busy year for the aid sector – Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines, the worsening crisis in Syria, the outbreak of conflict in CAR and South Sudan, the recent offensive in Gaza, Ukraine, the reemergence of Iraq on front pages . . . and then there’s the forgotten or protracted crises in Somalia, the Sahel, DRC and Myanmar . . . and finally, the smaller but devastating crises such as the coffee rust in Central America and floods in Serbia. Reliefweb lists 46 current disasters.
But despite all this, the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa is now centre stage and most predictions are that it’s going to continue to be for some months yet. Things are progressing rapidly as INGOs, the UN and Northern Governments are beginning to ramp up their responses. As an example, DFID now have a new Director in charge of ebola and what seems to be over 100 staff working on it.
Here is a summary of the key news and debates in the last week or so:
Basic Stats – Formal notification of the first case in Guinea was made by the WHO on 23 March 2014, so we are now 6 months on. On 21 September there was a reported 6,263 cases and 2,917 deaths. Liberia still has the greatest number of cases (3,280) and deaths (1,677). Cases have been confirmed in the laboratory in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Who’s Done What? – The UK Government announces it will lead the response in Sierra Leone, the US sent 3,000 troops to do the same in Liberia and France is leading in Guinea (video of the French Minister speaking about their plans). From ‘Southern’ Governments, China has sent 59 health workers and Cuba has sent 165 medics to Sierra Leone.
Predicting Numbers – Many were concerned when CDC data suggesting tens of thousands more would die from ebola by January. Since then CDC has confirmed it suspects a worst case scenario of 550,000 cases. However, if this is corrected for assumed underreporting the figure becomes 1.4m by January (1). Next week we will hear whether the feared 8,000 cases will have been reported on 30 September. Even if this high total isn’t reached, the number of potentially unreported cases means that it is actually impossible to calculate the precise number of infected and deaths.
Lockdown – The Government of Sierra Leone called a lockdown across the country to try to identify all those with ebola and attempt to reduce the spread of the epidemic. There were mixed opinions on the success of the 3 day curfew: 100 victims and 56 new cases were found. Officials said this was a success. But MSF was concerned that it could actually result in further spread. But many were also worried for those who would be trapped without food and other necessities.
The Best Method? – This has resulted in a discussion of the different approaches between MSF and CDC about how to conquer the epidemic – this is summarised in a nice piece by CGDev.
United Nations – In an unprecedented move, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed a resolution on the ebola outbreak (2177). The US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power had called for the resolution and this was the first time the Council had discussed a health issue as it’s useful remit is limited to matters of ‘peace and security’. A new UN mission named UNMEER is to be sent to the region to help with the response. Dr David Nabarro was named as the UN Coordinator for the response.
- 30 September – First ebola case diagnosed in USA
- Analysts started to look at the causes of the epidemic with one suggesting it was due to neocolonialism.
- The BBC World Service launched an ebola radio network with a 9 minute daily programme to help through local stories, correspondents and interviews, disseminate the latest information about the effort to contain and combat the disease.
- Debates continue about what is the best PPE suit to use, what protocols are apt and how to facilitate the burial of victims.
- A woman invents a way to care for her family using bin liners.
- There was considerable debate about whether or not ebola could become an airborne virus. The conclusion is no.
References – The WHO Ebola Portal and The CDC Ebola Portal and the Global Ebola Response Coalition
Read our previous post on the Difficulties of Staffing the Ebola Response
For an introduction to the Ebola virus try Peter Piot’s No Time to Lose