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World Losing Battle to Contain Ebola, Health Agency Says

Expert foresees ‘slow collapse of societies’

World leaders are failing to address the worst-ever Ebola epidemic, and states with a biological-disaster response capacity, including civilian and military medical capabilities, must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced in a special briefing at the United Nations.

In her speech, MSF International President Dr. Joanne Liu denounced the lack of deployment of resources, which has left overstretched ministries of health and private non-governmental organizations to tackle the exceptionally large outbreak. Despite repeated calls by MSF for a massive mobilization on the ground, the international response has been inadequate, she said. Liu added that transmission rates have reached levels never reported in past Ebola outbreaks, and the further spread of the virus will not be prevented without a massive deployment of specialized medical units to bolster epidemic control efforts in affected countries.

“Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it,” Liu said. “Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat. The WHO announcement on August 8 that the 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.”

Liu continued: “Funding announcements and the deployment of a few experts do not suffice. States with the required capacity have a political and humanitarian responsibility to come forward and offer a desperately needed, concrete response to the disaster unfolding in front of the world’s eyes. Rather than limit their response to the potential arrival of an infected patient in their countries, they should take the unique opportunity to actually save lives where immediately needed, in West Africa.”

In the immediate term, field hospitals with isolation wards must be scaled up; trained personnel must be dispatched; mobile laboratories must be deployed to improve diagnostics; air bridges must be established to move personnel and material to and within West Africa; and a regional network of field hospitals must be established to treat medical personnel with suspected or actual infections, Liu said.

In addition, triage centers must to be set up; systems for the management of corpses must be increased; and hygiene items must be distributed at a mass scale, along with an increase of active-surveillance capacities, she added. Disinfection campaigns are also needed, as well as health and hygiene promotion among the populations and within health facilities.

“The clock is ticking, and Ebola is winning,” Liu warned. “The time for meetings and planning is over. It is now time to act. Every day of inaction means more deaths and the slow collapse of societies.”

MSF began its Ebola intervention in West Africa in March 2014 and is now operating in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The organization runs five Ebola case-management centers with a total capacity of 480 beds. Since March, MSF has admitted 2,077 people, of whom 1,038 tested positive for Ebola, and 241 have recovered.

Source: MSF; September 2, 2014.

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