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Published On: Wed, Oct 8th, 2014

Ebola: Before deadly scourge consumes world communities

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Ebola-VirusBy Ese Awhotu

The United Nations committee that deals with administrative and budgetary issues on Wednesday adopted a resolution allocating funding for the newly established UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and the Office of the Special Envoy on Ebola.

“The Fifth Committee is sending a strong message on its ability to effectively and expeditiously deliver on critical and pressing global issues,” the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, told the group’s second formal meeting in New York.

At the Committee’s first meeting on Friday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, presented his preliminary funding proposal requesting $49.9 million for the rest of the year.

The UN said in statement that the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) endorsed that amount and recommended that the General Assembly approve it. UNMEER teams have already deployed to the Mission headquarters in

Accra, Ghana, and to offices in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “The establishment of UNMEER is the first step in the global efforts to contain the outbreak, which must be further strengthened by a wide range of actions and measures at all levels,” Mr. Kutesa said, highlighting efforts to mobilize required financial, medical and humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Kutesa, who last month took over the presidency of the 193-member General Assembly, noted the quickness with which the Fifth Committee acted on UNMEER’s budget, and strongly encouraged it to build on this momentum to develop greater trust among the membership and deliver on expected timeframes.

“The challenge will be to reconcile the need for the transparent, effective and efficient utilization of resources with demands for effective and expeditious delivery on the ground,” he said.

More than 6,500 people have been believed to be infected, and more than 3,300 have died since the latest outbreak of the disease was confirmed in March.

According to the UN, aside from the UNMEER funding, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that it needs $988 to respond to the outbreak. So far, $257 million or 26 per cent has been raised.

Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is warning that the Ebola health crisis that has claimed thousands of lives must not be allowed to become a crippling socio-economic crisis as well, as two of its officials began a visit to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“This devastating health crisis is destroying lives and communities.

It is also impairing national economies, wiping out livelihoods and basic services, and could undo years of efforts to stabilize West Africa,” said Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support.

“As we work together to end the outbreak, now is the time to ensure these countries can also continue to function and swiftly get back on their feet,” he added.

UNDP noted in a news release that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, already suffering from some of the lowest levels of human development in the world, had emerged from years of civil conflict and political instability and were starting to make encouraging progress.

Gross domestic product growth in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has shrunk by two to three percentage points, the agency said. The countries are now projected to lose a total of $13 billion as a result of Ebola. People’s livelihoods are shrinking from lost wages and decreased productivity.

The outbreak has also had an impact on social services across the region. In Guinea, primary and secondary schools and universities are closed. In Liberia, vaccine coverage shrank by 50 per cent in the first few months of the epidemic.

Food security has also been affected, with fewer women and men able to plant and harvest. As a result, the price of rice has risen by at least 30 per cent in Sierra Leone, and in Guinea national rice production is already down 10 per cent.

UNDP’s efforts are focused on early recovery, containing the disease and protecting peace dividends and development gains. The agency is realigning its programmes in the three most-affected countries to focus on the crisis, deploying an extra 47 staff, and working closely with the governments to bolster their ability to cope with the crisis. During the trip, Mr. Martínez-Solimán and Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the Deputy Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, will hold talks with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNMEER, Anthony Banbury. Mr. Banbury, who has been visiting the most affected countries since last week, is in Conakry, Guinea, where he is meeting with government officials and partners to assess the needs in the country.

Despite “good results” in the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, much still remains to be done in order to extinguish the threat posed by the virulent disease, said Banbury.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director, Denise Brown, briefed the press via audio link from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, saying that despite best efforts, “the Ebola virus is running faster than the international community,” , adding that concerted efforts to get the virus under control had not succeeded- it was way ahead of us, she added.

Calling it an unprecedented situation, Ms. Brown urged the international community to take exceptional measures to collectively get in front of the virus and to stop it.

For its part, WFP is delivering food, planes, helicopters, ships, and flying in aid workers but the virus is spreading exponentially, and the response must increase accordingly.

The agency is building two treatment centres in Monrovia which should be ready by the end of October with 400 beds. In a recent update, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported 7,178 cases and 3,338 deaths from Ebola based on information provided by the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The agency notes that the upward epidemic trend continues in Sierra Leone and most probably also in Liberia. By contrast, the situation in Guinea appears to be more stable, though, in the context of an Ebola outbreak, a stable pattern of transmission is still of a very grave concern, and could change quickly.

The health agency noted that 375 health care workers are known to have developed Ebola (67 in Guinea, 184 in Liberia, 11 in Nigeria, and 113 in Sierra Leone), and 211 of them have died as a result (35 in Guinea, 89 in Liberia, five in Nigeria, and 82 in Sierra Leone).

Two countries, Nigeria and Senegal, have now reported a case or cases imported from a country with widespread and intense transmission. In Nigeria, there have been 20 cases and eight deaths. In Senegal, there has been one case, but as yet there have been no deaths. The disease has also reportedly been tracked to the United States where a Liberian man is currently being treated for the symptoms of the disease at a hospital in Dallas, Texas.

Based in Accra, UNMEER is the first ever emergency health mission deployed by the United Nations. Banbury’s visit to Liberia will be followed by trips to Sierra Leone, on 3 October, and Guinea, on 5 October, as he continues to assess the virus’ reach.

Remarking on his “very good” visit to Liberia’s Foya District, where a number of Ebola cases have been reported, Mr. Banbury applauded the work being done by both district health officials and the frontline workers of NGOs such as Médecins Sans “The only way we will end this crisis is if we end every last case of  Ebola so there is no more risk of transmission to anyone,” Mr. Banbury concluded. “When that’s accomplished, UNMEER will go home.”

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