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Ebola is not over: No room for complacency 

Ebola is not defeated in West Africa but appears to be off the radar for the mainstream news media, writes Editorial Advisory Panel Member Roger Gomm. Although the peak of the outbreak has passed, transmission continues in several areas in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Liberia's outbreak was declared over on May 9 but, since then, a new cluster of infection has been confirmed.

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The Story of Ebola: A burial team comes and sprays grandfather’s room and his body with chlorine to destroy the Ebola germs. This is part of an animated story told by a young girl whose grandfather dies from Ebola and puts the rest of her family at risk. It brings to life the many messages that are so crucial in understanding this disease on a community level. The animation—produced by Global Health Media Project in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UNICEF, and Yoni Goodman—brings to life key messages that help people see and understand how Ebola spreads and how to protect themselves and their communities
(Picture courtesy of IFRC – CC License) 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its Response to the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel report. This is a document produced by the panel of independent experts who reviewed WHO’s response to the Ebola outbreak. The report and recommendations fall under the following 3 headings:

  • The International Health Regulations (2005);
  • WHO’s health emergency response capacity; and
  • WHO’s role and co-operation with the wider health and humanitarian systems.

Of particular interest is the WHO's statement that: “The current Ebola outbreak is still ongoing and improved methods of working are incorporated into the response as they are developed. But it will take many more months of continued hard work to end the outbreak and to prevent it from spreading to other countries.”

As reported in CRJ 10:4 (June 2015), the WHO held a Ebola research and development meeting in May. The independent panel of experts concluded that: “At present, the WHO does not have the operational capacity or culture to deliver a full emergency public health response,” and urged investments by its member states to make it “fit for purpose”.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, told reporters in May: “Ebola is not the only epidemic-prone disease for which there are no medicines, vaccines or diagnostics. Nor is this the first time the world has been caught unprepared in the face of an epidemic.”

In its response to the Interim Assessment Panel report, the WHO noted the panel’s call for a unified programme for health emergencies, saying: “WHO is already moving forward on some of the panel’s recommendations including the development of the global health emergency workforce and the contingency fund to ensure the necessary resources are available to mount an initial response.”

With regard to the WHO’s role and co-operation with the wider health and humanitarian systems, it noted: “The Ebola outbreak highlighted the separation between systems for responding to health emergencies and systems for humanitarian response, and WHO agrees they must be better integrated for future emergency responses.

“This includes considering ways to co-ordinate the grading of its humanitarian emergencies with the grading of declarations of health emergencies under the International Health Regulations.”

Commenting on the latest panel report, Dr Joanne Liu, MSF International President said: “MSF has repeatedly raised the alarm on the WHO and global response to Ebola and was also interviewed by the panel. On paper, there are a lot of strong points in the report that reflect many issues MSF is concerned about, but the question how will this translate into real action on the ground in future outbreaks and epidemics and what will Member States do to make sure this really happens?

“We have seen so many reports calling for change, with everyone focused on how to improve future response and meanwhile, with 20-25 new Ebola cases per week in the region, we still don’t have the current epidemic under control. On Ebola, we went from global indifference, to global fear, to global response and now to global fatigue. We must finish the job.”

To highlight the ongoing work in West Africa, readers should be aware of the following: In the situation report dated June 10, from WHO, it was reported that the recent improvements in West Africa have stalled, with a second week of increased new cases and Ebola spreading into more areas of transmission.

In the week ending June 7, 31 new cases were identified. Sixteen cases were from five prefectures of Guinea, with almost a third coming from unidentified sources and three confirmations after death in the community. Fifteen new cases in Sierra Leone came from clusters in two districts. There were no new cases confirmed in the densely populated Western Area Urban district for the first time in over nine months.

Unsafe burials continue in both countries. Globally, 27,273 cases and 11,173 deaths have been recorded.

Two suspected cases of Ebola have been admitted in a designated health care facility in Lyon as of 15 June. According to unverified sources, one of the patients passed through Guinea and Sierra Leone before arriving in France. He developed high fever and dizziness and sought medical attention at Grenoble. Investigations are ongoing and test results are awaited. On June 17, both the patients tested negative for Ebola.

“The current Ebola outbreak is still ongoing and improved methods of working are incorporated into the response as they are developed. But it will take many more months of continued hard work to end the outbreak and to prevent it from spreading to other countries,” said the WHO. 

Roger Gomm is a Member of CRJ's Editorial Advisory Panel

The Story of Ebola, produced by IFRC and UNICEF, launched July 6

Thumbnail photo: Ultra-violet screening for potentially Ebola-carrying liquids: NHS medics preparing to head out to fight the disease in Sierra Leone At the British Army's Ebola training facility near York, UK (Photo DFID – CC License) 

Roger Gomm, 09/07/2015
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