The World's Ebola Response

"This is a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones," WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told the Security Council.

A big development occurred in September as I sat down to write this: 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a key resolution, and the UN Security Council declared the Ebola outbreak in west Africa a threat to international peace and security. UN's secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, announced a new United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) would be deployed–marking the first time that the UN has created a mission for a public health emergency. This came only six months after the first case was reported to the World Health Organization, yet in that period more than 2,500 victims had died of the disease. By mid-October, the death toll had risen to 4,500.

Ban directed UNMEER advance teams to deploy to the mission headquarters in Accra, Ghana, and to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, by Sept. 22. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, has said the outbreak is likely to be the greatest peacetime challenge the United Nations has ever faced and has called on nations around the world to help in providing for nearly $1 billion in critical needs the UN has identified for the next six months. "The fact that the U.S., U.K., China, Cuba, and other countries are using a variety of assets, including military assets, speaks to the complexity of the challenge," she said.

"This is not just a public health crisis. This is a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones," she told the Security Council. "For these reasons, Mr. secretary general and I are calling for a UN-wide initiative that draws together all the assets of all relevant UN agencies."

Dr. David Nabarro, the secretary general's senior coordinator for the Ebola response, said confirmed cases had doubled in the affected countries during the three weeks prior to the council's vote. "To get in front of this, the response must be increased 20-fold from where it is today," he said.

We're fortunate that several encouraging developments occurred in mid-October: WHO declared Nigeria and Senegal free of Ebola transmission, calling the former's effort "a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained." Also, while Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who traveled to the United States and became the first Ebola case in the country, died of the disease, almost 50 relatives of Duncan and others who had contact with him while he was contagious were released from quarantine with no symptoms of the disease.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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