'The world is on the side of those who are involved in this fight' against Ebola – UN envoy

Anthony Banbury, Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and Dr. David Nabarro, Special Envoy on Ebola, at a joint interview. Photo: UNMEER

28 November 2014 – The top United Nations officials leading the fight against Ebola have made an appeal for people who possess skills that are “quite rare” to join the global effort, such as those who can provide patient care, undertake contact tracing and analyze how the outbreak is evolving in remote areas of the virus-affected countries, saying that “deploying more people to the districts is our highest priority.”

“These skills are quite rare in our world today because there are not thousands and thousands of people who are really experienced in Ebola and its management,” Dr. David Nabarro, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy on Ebola, said in an interview with the Department of Public Information at the headquarters of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in Accra, Ghana.

“And so what we're doing is looking very hard for the best people in the world and encouraging them to come and work with the governments of the affected countries,” Dr. Nabarro said.

Dr. Nabarro gave the interview together with UNMEER chief Anthony Banbury, in the lead-up to the 1 December target set by the mission, which aims to try to get 70 per cent of the cases isolated and treated, and 70 per cent of the deceased safely buried within 60 days from the beginning of October to 1 December.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 15,935 cases have been confirmed in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain and the United States and two previously affected countries of Nigeria and Senegal as of 23 November, with 5,689 reported deaths.

Both Dr. Nabarro and Mr. Banbury said progress so far has been uneven but that they were very pleased by what has been achieved in some parts of the affected countries.

“Tremendous progress has been achieved in some areas,” Mr. Banbury said. “That's thanks to the hard work of the communities themselves but also very much the responders, the national and international responders.”

“Where we've been able to put the elements of the response in place, we've seen dramatic improvements in the situation,” he said. “So we're very heartened by that. It shows the strategy works.”

“Unfortunately,” he went on to say, “We've not been able to put the elements of the response in place everywhere, and where it's lacking, we see the significant or very bad situation in many of these communities, and that's got to be the focus of our efforts going forward: spreading out our geographic response.”

Specifically, Dr. Nabarro said: “We've seen these incredible and promising results from Liberia. We've seen very good results from parts of Sierra Leone. But there are other parts of Sierra Leone and parts of Guinea where the numbers of cases continue to accelerate day by day.”

The envoy also noted the spread of the virus into Mali, saying that “the next few weeks are going to be really important.”

Dr. Nabarro also drew attention to the fact that “the services in order to respond to Ebola in the affected countries are short of the people who will provide patient care and also who will undertake some of the contact tracing and analysis of how the outbreak is evolving.”

And Mr. Banbury elaborated by saying: “Specifically, it means more field crisis managers for UNMEER on the ground, more WHO epidemiologists on the ground, more information management specialists on the ground but we critically need more trained medical teams operating effective Ebola treatment facilities in many places.”

“And we need the laboratories to quickly test the samples, the blood samples, of possible Ebola patients, to quickly determine whether they are in fact sick with Ebola so that they can be treated accordingly,” he said.

Another priority for UNMEER, he said, is to have more rapid deployment of teams out in the districts.

“If we are going to beat this disease out in the districts we need to be present out there,” he said. “Deploying more people to the districts is our highest priority. We're working hard to make it happen.”

Mr. Banbury, however, said “it's hard to attract the kinds of people that we need with the right skills who are willing to go out there and live in some austere environments particularly with the holidays coming up. So it's a challenge for us.”

Dr. Nabarro said he was heartened by the fact that there was “no donor fatigue.”

“The extraordinary thing about this is that the whole world is willing to have a quick and successful response to this outbreak,” he said. “They want to see it treated at source; they want to see the countries being able to recover quickly; they want the world not to be threatened by a disease that causes a lot of fear and leads frequently to people to take extreme actions when they're nervous about getting Ebola.”

“So I actually, think that the world is on the side of those who are involved in this fight,” the UN envoy said.

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