Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries that have imposed travel bans or closed their borders in response to the Ebola outbreak of the need to convey a sense of urgency without inciting panic, saying “the only way to stop Ebola is to stop it at its source.”
Mr. Ban spoke to reporters alongside African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where they had discussed how the three organizations and their partners can help efforts to stop the Ebola epidemic unfolding in West Africa.
Meanwhile, the Geneva-based UN World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the approval by Swissmedic – the Swiss regulatory authority for therapeutic products – for a trial with an experimental Ebola vaccine at the Lausanne University Hospital, saying “this marks the latest step towards bringing safe and effective Ebola vaccines for testing and implementation as quickly as possible.”
Also today, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) reported that its Chinese peacekeeping contingent will assist in the construction of an Ebola Quarantine and Control Center in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. The project is expected to take 21 days to complete.
The UN continues to work with its partners to ramp up efforts to tackle all aspects of the outbreak, and in Addis Ababa today, Mr. Ban said: “Ebola is a major global crisis that demands a massive and immediate global response. No country or organization can defeat Ebola alone. We all have a role to play.”
In that regard, the Secretary-General said he was very heartened to learn of the pledges by African nations, most recently Ethiopia, Burundi and Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to deploy medical personnel to assist Ebola victims that have claimed nearly 5,000 lives in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“I am particularly encouraged by the decision of Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to deploy medical personnel, and of Senegal to serve as a logistics hub for the response, following success in containing their own outbreaks,” he said.
The UN chief said he is in constant contact with world leaders “to help us create dedicated medical facilities for in-country treatment of responders and to put in place medical evacuation mechanisms.”
“We have a long way ahead to contain and curb the Ebola outbreak and to help the affected countries rebuild their health systems to better withstand future shocks,” he said.
According to WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, the agency has 176 health personnel on the ground, while 700 had been deployed and rotated since the beginning of the outbreak. At any given time, he said there were about 200 people on the ground. In addition, medical teams from other organizations including medical teams from Cuba, China, and other countries.
Mr. Jasarevic stated that 230 more burial teams are needed, to ensure 70 percent of safe burials. Eight to 10 people are needed for one burial team.
In response to a question about the politicians in Australia and the United States calling for restrictions on people returning from affected countries, Mr. Jasarevic said mandatory quarantine was not recommended, as people were not contagious until they were showing symptoms.
The Secretary-General in Addis Ababa drew attention to travel bans and border closures imposed by some countries, saying such measures will only isolate the affected countries, and obstruct response efforts.
“The only way to stop Ebola is to stop it at its source,” Mr. Ban said.
“I thank the African Union (AU) for its strong and consistent position on this point,” he said, and asked the AU to continue to appeal to its member states not to impose travel restrictions or close their borders, but rather to deploy the essential human resources.
“We urgently need more trained foreign medical teams to deploy to the region,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) noted that the spread of Ebola was disrupting food trade and markets in the three affected countries. In Geneva, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said that in Sierra Leone, local weekly markets were banned. In Monrovia, the price of cassava flour had more than doubled after the closure of the border with Sierra Leone, and in Liberia prices for imported rice had continued to increase beyond the summer pattern, Ms. Byrs said.
“Should the Ebola epidemic last another four to five months when farmers would begin to prepare their lands, there would be a real concern that planting for the 2015 harvest could be affected,” she said.