The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 September 2014
As Sierra Leone prepares for a complete closing down of business for three days – starting Friday, 19th September, the international community is now stepping up support for the health agencies and the ministry of health in tackling the Ebola virus.
Latest official report shows that over 1,300 people have contracted the virus and almost 500 dead in Sierra Leone, as health agencies struggle to contain the spread of the disease.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday announced that it will commit $50 million to support the scale up of emergency efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and interrupt transmission of the virus.
The foundation will immediately release flexible funds to United Nations agencies and international organizations involved in the response to enable them and national governments to purchase badly needed supplies and scale up emergency operations in affected countries.
In addition, the foundation will work with public and private sector partners to accelerate the development of therapies, vaccines, and diagnostics that could be effective in treating patients and preventing further transmission of the disease.
“We are working urgently with our partners to identify the most effective ways to help them save lives now and stop transmission of this deadly disease,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates Foundation. “We also want to accelerate the development of treatments, vaccines and diagnostics that can help end this epidemic and prevent future outbreaks.”
The Gates Foundation has so far committed more than $10 million to fight the Ebola outbreak, including $5 million to WHO for emergency operations and R&D assessments and $5 million to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to support efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to purchase essential medical supplies, coordinate response activities, and provide at-risk communities with life-saving health information.
An additional $2 million will also be committed immediately to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support incident management, treatment, and health care system strengthening.
In August, Nigeria responded to the current crisis by opening an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Lagos, with support from the foundation and the Dangote Foundation.
Leveraging expertise and lessons from the national polio program, the EOC has been at the center of an aggressive push by the federal and state governments to contain the spread of the virus, and there is cautious optimism that this prompt action may have helped avert a broader outbreak.
Last Friday, the government of the People’s Republic of China through its Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented proposals to President Ernest Bai Koroma for the installation of laboratories in the country to help improve the diagnosis of Ebola and stop its transmission.
According to the Director of CDC-China, Wang Lu, the temporary mobile lab will be installed in ten days at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Hospital at Jui to assist frontline health workers to further slow the transmission of the disease, and it would take three months to install the permanent lab for long term use.
“To stop transmission we have to collect blood samples from infected persons which is our main purpose of being in the country,” he said, and quickly added that the labs are all level three biosafety facilities.
The delegation was warmly welcomed by President Koroma, who spoke about the challenges the government faces in responding to cases or samples that needed to be tested. “We also have great challenges in the numbers that we have sampled. We need to sample as many as we could so that we can stop person to person transmission.”
The President said that the labs would be useful even after the Ebola outbreak as they will help strengthen the capacity of the health sector.
President Koroma asked the Chinese envoy about the possibility of China supplying Sierra Leone with the new anti-Ebola drug – JK-O5, to which Ambassador Zhao Yanbo said he would look into the President’s request.
Ambassador Zhao Yanbo said that the advance medical team from China arrived in Freetown on Tuesday. They will be setting up the mobile testing lab in the next ten days. “Time is life, that is why the CDC team leader Mr. Wang Lu led the team to the country to install the labs quickly,” the Ambassador said.
The British government too is now speeding up its support for former colony – Sierra Leone, in helping the country manage the Ebola crisis. According to the British International Development Secretary – Justine Greening, British military and humanitarian experts will set up a medical treatment centre for victims of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
The 62 bed facility will be purpose built and operated by military engineers and medical staff. The initial phase of the facility will be constructed and operational in the next eight weeks. British military personnel will begin to survey and assess the site later this week. Based near the capital Freetown, the facility will treat victims of the disease, including local and international health workers and medical volunteers.
The UK government is working with Save the Children to design a long term plan to manage and operate the facility after it has been fully set up.
The UK’s support follows a direct request from the World Health Organisation and the government of Sierra Leone for assistance in containing the outbreak.
Announcing the deployment, International Development Secretary – Justine Greening said that;
“Britain is at the forefront of the global effort to tackle this deadly outbreak, having already committed £25 million of support, including frontline treatment and funding for medical research to develop a vaccine.”
“The scale of the problem requires the entire international community to do more to assist the affected countries which is why the UK is working with the government of Sierra Leone to build a new medical treatment facility near their capital Freetown,” says Greening (Photo).
British Minister for Armed Forces Mark Francois said that; “The people of West Africa need our help and we will not stand idly by. The UK has been at the forefront of responding to the epidemic and our military will continue the great work so far. This operation will involve a unique set of challenges but I believe that we have the ability to provide support to the World Health Organisation, in helping to bring the outbreak under control.”
Justin Forsyth, Save the Children Chief Executive said that; “Ebola threatens thousands of people’s lives across West Africa and could set back development many decades. The key to combating this epidemic is backing front line health workers and underpinning a fractured health system in Sierra Leone – without urgent action to assist medics, many more children and their families will suffer and die from this most appalling and tragic disease.”
“Save the Children is working alongside DFID and the MoD to cement plans to firstly help set up the centre and then take it over with international experts, as well as local staff, to provide the very best life-saving health service under the most challenging conditions,” says Justin Forsyth.
The new health facility in Sierra Leone is in addition to the UK’s £25 million package of support to contain and control the disease. This includes multilateral support as well as direct funding to aid agencies operating on the ground.