Ebola: joint UN assessment response team heads to Liberia

A hand-washing station outside UN offices in the Liberian capital city of Monrovia, assisting efforts to control and eradicate the Ebola virus outbreak. UN Photo/Andrey Tsarkov

19 September 2014 – Hours after the United Nations decided to establish an emergency health mission to tackle the West African Ebola outbreak, a joint disaster team is heading to Liberia to assess the response to the virus, while a senior UN health official said that a vaccine could be ready by the end of this year.

The 15-person UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team is comprised of experts from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), European Union and the Liberian Government. Liberia. Along with Guinea and Sierra Leone are the countries that have been hardest hit by the outbreak if the Ebola virus disease.

“It is the first time that an UNDAC team had been deployed to deal with a disease outbreak,” said OCHA spokesperson Angelita Mendy. “Such teams are normally deployed in cases of natural disasters.”

In an emergency meeting yesterday, the Security Council yesterday declared the outbreak a threat to peace and security and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the establishment of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to stop the outbreak, treat the infected, ensure essential services, preserve stability and prevent further outbreaks.

The UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa will hold a special meeting later today to adopt a resolution in the world body that would be fully supportive of ongoing efforts and to send “strong message of unity… and solidarity with the peoples of the affected countries.”

Further, the United Nations this week outlined a set of critical needs totalling almost $1 billion over the next six months.

Addressing journalists in Geneva, Dr. Pierre Formenty of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) today said that the disease would not be controlled without the full cooperation of the people.

“The first priority is to put people infected with Ebola under care,” he said. A concern, given there are not enough beds in Monrovia to cope with the number of cases.

More than 2,500 people have died across West Africa, with more than half the fatalities recorded in Liberia, according to official figures.

“WHO and MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) had reached some of their limits in Monrovia, but other NGOs are helping out,” Dr. Formenty said.

There is “a lot” of suspicion about Ebola, he noted, with people being doubtful of other diseases, such as malaria.

The UN agency is working on increased the number of testing sites, with plans to have rapid testing spots outside of big Ebola treatment centres to quickly establish whether or not the patient has the virus.

In addition, there are also efforts to deal with the rising number of people dying from the virus, since preparations for burials are among the ways the disease spreads among relatives and friends.

Meanwhile, several vaccine trials are now starting in Germany, Switzerland and the United States.

“There is a good road map in place for vaccines,” Dr. Formenty said, adding that while adverse factors are being follow up on, “there are hopes to have something ready by the beginning of December.”

In Sierra Leone, a three-day lockdown reportedly started today to allow health workers to search for hidden cases of the virus. Households are being given a bar of soap, and homes visited are marked with a sticker.

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for WHO, said the point of the Presidential Task Force was to education people about the virus.

“Efforts are made to go to people's houses, fight against existing misconceptions, on how to deal with the infected and what safe burial practices are,” he said.


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