Fight against Ebola epidemic must continue, Sherlock warns

Presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea attending conference on Ebola

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrives to attend a conference on Ebola on Tuesday in  Brussels. Leaders of Ebola-hit countries in west Africa attend an international conference in Brussels  to mobilise a final push to end the outbreak and ensure the delivery of nearly $5 billion in aid pledges. Photograph: AFP

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrives to attend a conference on Ebola on Tuesday in Brussels. Leaders of Ebola-hit countries in west Africa attend an international conference in Brussels to mobilise a final push to end the outbreak and ensure the delivery of nearly $5 billion in aid pledges. Photograph: AFP

 

Western countries must continue their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic which is continuing to claim hundreds of lives in west Africa, according to Minister of State Sean Sherlock.

Speaking on the fringes of a major international conference on Ebola in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Sherlock said as the virus has slipped down the international media agenda, it was still vitally important that the epidemic is tackled.

“Northern Hemisphere countries have a responsibility to help tackle the disease. While it is important to take a strategic approach, we have to ensure that the immediate challenges on the ground continue to be addressed.

“The key message we’re bringing here today is that we need to get the number of those losing their lives from the disease down to zero.”

The presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are attending the conference which is being organised by the European Union and the UN in collaboration with the African Union.

Irish officials, including Ireland’s ambassador to Sierra Leone Sinead Walsh, have held bilateral meetings with the leaders of a number of African countries throughout the morning.

Ireland, along with Britain and Germany, is one of three EU countries with an embassy in Sierra Leone. Aid agencies including Goal, Concern, Plan are working on the ground in the region, as well as members of the Irish defence force.

Mr Sherlock, who visited Freetown in October, said Ireland was playing a key role in co-ordinating services on the ground in West Africa, working closely with international agencies such as the UN.

To date, Ireland has donated more than €18.5 million to help tackle the Ebola crisis, much of which is being used to help train local medical staff through the various Ministries of Health in the affected countries.

“Hundreds of medical practitioners in the region have died and health centres have closed since the outbreak,” said Ireland’s ambassador to Sierra Leone, Sinead Walsh. “This has a knock-on impact elsewhere. Even before the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone had the highest infant mortality rate and highest maternal mortality rates in the world.”

In total, the EU has contributed more than €1.2 billion to fight the Ebola outbreak, a figure which includes contributions from individual member states and the European Commission.

Since the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa a year ago, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 9,500 people.

Speaking this morning at the conference, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini said it was important that EU aid was delivered in the best way and to focus on reconstructing those countries most affected. “[We need] to start looking forward how to reconstruct the health system, the welfare system, the entire community system of these countries that were close to be destroyed by this terrible phenomenon,” she said.

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), the organisation which sends doctors and other professionals to the world’s trouble-spots to deliver medical care, said it was vital that health services for non-Ebola patients were also provided, noting in particular the danger posed by the recent outbreak of measles in the area.