West blamed for ‘almost zero’ response to Ebola outbreak crisis

Death toll in West Africa outbreak has exceeded 1,200, says World Health Organisation

A very sick Saah Exco (10) lies in an alley in the West Point slum in Liberian capital Monrovia yesterday. The boy was one of the patients pulled out of a holding centre for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob last Saturday. A local clinic yesterday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because of the danger of infection. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African nations, more in Liberia than any other country. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

A very sick Saah Exco (10) lies in an alley in the West Point slum in Liberian capital Monrovia yesterday. The boy was one of the patients pulled out of a holding centre for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob last Saturday. A local clinic yesterday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because of the danger of infection. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people in four African nations, more in Liberia than any other country. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 01:00

The international community has made “almost zero” response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, with western leaders more interested in protecting their own countries than helping contain the crisis that has now claimed more than 1,200 lives, a senior aid worker said yesterday.

Brice de la Vigne, the operations director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said politicians in industrialised countries urgently needed to take action or risk the outbreak spreading much further. “Globally, the response of the international community is almost zero,” he said. “Leaders in the West are talking about their own safety and doing things like closing airlines – and not helping anyone else.”

His comments came as the World Health Organisation announced that the death toll in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has now exceeded 1,200. The haemorrhagic disease, which kills up to 90 per cent of those infected, is ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.

De la Vigne, who has just returned from a tour of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, said the scale of the outbreak was comparable to a catastrophe such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake that killed 300,000 people. “The solution is not that complicated but we need to have political will to do so. Time is running against us. But you need very senior people with high profiles, the kind of people who can co-ordinate a response to a million people affected by an earthquake,” he said.

His words were echoed by Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick, a Monaghan man who works for a health surveillance protection centre in Dublin. Dr Fitpatrick is working at the MSF field hospital in Kailahun, the epicentre of the crisis in Sierra Leone.

“If this Ebola outbreak happened in a western community, in London, you’d get a few cases and that would be it,” he said. “The main objective here is not to dramatically increase the person’s chance of survival, it’s to contain the spread.”

At least 810 cases of Ebola have been reported in Sierra Leone, and 348 people have died from the virus in the country, according to WHO figures.

Since June, Fitzpatrick has been working in the MSF field hospital, processing patients through three initial stages with a “suspect tent”, a “probably tent” and a “confirmed tent”. Once in the final tent, their chances of coming out alive are slim.

He described one family of nine wiped out after a grandmother contracted the disease on August 4th. Death is swift – usually within four or five days.

Fear, rumours and conspiracy theories have conspired with poverty and high illiteracy to allow the disease to flourish in two countries whose infrastructure is already weak. “Both Sierra Leone and Liberia were at war 10 years ago and all the infrastructure was destroyed. It’s the worst place on earth to have these epidemics,” De la Vigne said.

Sierra Leone and Liberia have already declared a state of emergency, but health provision is reaching breaking point.

Sinead Walsh, who is working on the Sierra Leonean presidential Ebola task force, said the crisis was already causing deeper problems. More than one million people were in quarantine in Kailahun and neighbouring Kenema alone, businesses were closing, farmers were unable to trade and fears were rising about food shortages, she said.

The disease is having a knock-on effect, with sick people afraid to go to hospital for fear of catching Ebola. Health workers fear that deaths from malaria and in childbirth could escalate. “We are gone beyond the stage of a health crisis, said Walsh, who is the Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone and head of Irish Aid. “We need to start working on the secondary crisis.”

Fitzpatrick said the priority was to contain the disease, using volunteers to find suspected cases and bring patients to hospitals where they could be isolated. “The second thing is to trace those who we know have been in contact and keep them under observation. We are not doing any contact tracing at the moment,” he said.“It’s not rocket science to do on a large scale across west Africa. But it needs an organisational structure and good leadership.”

– (Guardian service)

 

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