The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 September 2014
It is almost six months since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, when it all seemed then, as though the world’s attention would never evaporate, and the UN Chief – Ban Ki Moon expressing horror at the unfolding tragedy.
Yet in the last month, it is clear that the world’s media have had enough of showing Africans dying of Ebola on their tv screens, especially with their governments attention now fixed on events in the Middle East and the Ukraine.
But the number of people contracting the virus and dying needlessly is not abating. Over 2,000 people have now died in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, with recent events in Liberia showing that the government of Helen Sirleaf can longer manage under the weight of the crisis.
In Sierra Leone, government has declared a complete shutdown of the country for three days, starting on the 19th September.
These are desperate times for the people of Sierra Leone, though the country’s gullible minister of information appears to be recklessly playing down the enormity of the disaster, by referring to the more than 500 that have died of the virus, as a mere 0.02% of the population.
But for the UN Chief – Ban Ki Moon, every single loss of life – whether in Sierra Leone or Liberia, is simply unacceptable.
Speaking last week, he said that; “The number of cases is rising exponentially. The disease is spreading far faster than the response. People are increasingly frustrated that it is not being controlled. What began as a public health emergency is evolving into a social and economic challenge for millions.”
Calls for a coordinated action from the international community – especially the UN, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, despite the rising number of deaths from the virus.
No one knows why there has been so much dragging of feet, but in the last few days, it seems the international community are beginning to quicken their steps in response to the barrage of criticisms.
But many in Africa would say that this is simply six months too late, for the more than 2000 people that have already died of the virus.
The UN is now desperately seeking to bring together a coordinated partnership for some kind of action, which includes; Dr. Margaret Chan – Director-General of the WHO; Dr. David Nabarro – Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola, spearheading the UN response; and the World Bank President – Jim Yong Kim; heads of Agencies and Funds and Programmes, such as UNDP, UNICEF, OCHA, UNFPA, ICAO.
Ban Ki Moon said that the purpose of the meeting was ‘to mobilize in every possible way, and to send out an international rescue call’.
He said that; “The next few weeks will be crucial. The people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular are looking to us for support. They are counting on us for a massive surge in assistance: more doctors, nurses and beds; more equipment, trucks and other vehicles.”
“I urge airlines and shipping companies not to cancel flights and docking to the affected countries. Banning flights and shipping services will not keep Ebola from spreading, but it will keep medical teams from reaching people most in need. Stigma and rumour can do just as much damage as the virus itself,” says Ban Ki Moon.
But money is the main problem for the UN, and the UN Chief is fully aware of that. Two months ago, the World Bank announced in Washington that it has set aside $200 million to help combat the virus.
Today we learn from the UN that this is a small drop in the ocean. The UN now says it will cost more than $0.5 Billion to help tackle Ebola.
Ban Ki Moon said last week; “I call on the international community to contribute to the WHO Roadmap and to provide the $600 million needed for supplies in West Africa. The world can no longer afford to short-change global public health.”
Appealing to the international community, he said; “We need contributions-people, material and funding – from Governments, the private sector, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and other groups at the grassroots.”
But responding to the criticism over the glaring lack of a coordinated strategy, the UN Chief promised: “At the meeting, we agreed to establish an Ebola crisis centre to bring synergy and efficiency to the efforts of these many partners within and beyond the United Nations. The goal is to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months, and to prevent the international spread of the virus. This can be done only if the urgent and necessary mobilization is done both in the affected countries and by the international community.”