UN refines Ebola response amid efforts to bring outbreak under control by 1 December

Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Anthony Banbury, visits a site for safe and dignified burials for Ebola victims in the Sierra Leonean city of Kenema. Photo: UNMEER

7 November 2014 – The United Nations health agency today announced a new burial protocol for Ebola victims aimed at reducing the risk of exposure to the disease for family members as they bury their loved ones in accordance with religious rites amid Organization-wide efforts to control the deadly outbreak by a 1 December deadline.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 per cent of new Ebola infections occur during burials of diseased Ebola patients when family and community members perform religious rites that require directly touching or washing the highly infectious body.

“By building trust and respect between burial teams, bereaved families and religious groups, we are building trust and safety in the response itself,” Dr. Pierre Formenty, one of WHO’s leading Ebola experts, said in a press release.

The new protocol was developed by an interdisciplinary WHO team in tandem with faith-based organizations and encourages the inclusion of family and local clergy in the planning and preparation of the burial, as well as the burial itself. It falls in line with a UN-wide directive aimed at managing and treating 70 per cent of Ebola cases and making safe 70 per cent of burials by 1 December.

In addition, the protocol provides sensitivity guidelines for when Ebola burial teams first meet victims’ families, including abstaining from wearing personal protective equipment and asking the family if there are specific requests for managing the burial and personal effects of the deceased.

“Introducing components such as inviting the family to be involved in digging the grave and offering options for dry ablution and shrouding will make a significant difference in curbing Ebola transmission,” Dr. Formenty continued.

Meanwhile, in a press briefing from Geneva, the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), stated that its “massive” Ebola operation in the most-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, would see a doubling of supplies for frontline health workers, including a newly developed coverall impermeable to the Ebola virus.

Based on the agency’s planned scale-up, UNICEF would need at least 1 million of the new coveralls by 1 December, in addition to supplies of other protective gear, chlorine and essential medicines.

Moreover, the agency said, the number of UNICEF staff on the ground would double from 300 to 600, with a particular focus on being with the communities to support social mobilization and to help service delivery.

“This is the most complex emergency to which we have ever had to respond, and it has required agility in the provision of products, supply chains and service delivery,” said Shanelle Hall, Director of UNICEF’s global supply and logistics operations.

“Supply chains have had to be flexible, and meet extremely high standards of quality,” she continued.

“UNICEF is working with governments, industry and partners to establish whole new supply chains so that we are able to deliver dozens of new products to new service delivery locations.”

The UN’s refined efforts aimed at controlling the Ebola outbreak will be dealt a substantial assist when an experimental vaccine, currently undergoing laboratory testing, is issued to the affected West African nations. The vaccine could be dispatched as early as January 2015.


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