Exceptional efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are starting to show results, but a more “nimble and flexible” approach will be needed as the outbreak evolves in order to stay ahead of the disease and bring it down to zero, top officials charged with the United Nations response said today.
“There has been an extraordinary response to the Ebola crisis,” UN Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, told reporters today in Freetown, Sierra Leone. “The whole world has taken notice… and we are starting to see results.”
Alongside Anthony Banbury, Head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Dr. Nabarro gave a press conference to mark the first 60 days of the Mission, and assess the response to date.
The United Nations had set targets for December 1 of 70 per cent of burials being done safely and 70 per cent of new cases being placed in treatment facility in order to end the outbreak, which the World Health Organization says has infected more than 16,000 people in 8 countries and claimed nearly 6,000 lives.
Mr. Banbury said the target on safe burials has been exceeded in the three worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – while the second target on isolating patients had been reached in Liberia and Guinea, but only in some parts of Sierra Leone.
“The global response has successfully turned the crisis around,” he said, but noted that “we're far away from being out of the woods” and now the response is focused on bringing down the number of cases to zero – the only true measure of success.
“Going forward, we need to get down to zero,” he said. “Zero is the only success – when we're at zero.”
Mr. Banbury said UNMEER would apply a district-by-district approach for the next 60 days, to hunt down all cases and that he was “very confident that 60 days from now, all three countries will be in a much, much better condition than they are in now.”
Assessing the current situation, Dr. Nabarro said the “intensity of transmission and numbers of newly affected cases of Ebola still vary greatly each day – slowing in some districts and increasing in others.”
“The distribution changes from week to week,” he said. “The situation can worsen unexpectedly.”
Looking headed to the next 60 days and beyond, Dr. Nabarro said “Responses must be nimble and flexible, so as to continually adapt to needs, and – at all times – remain coordinated, so resources are used effectively and efficiently.”
Mr. Banbury elaborated by saying “now UNMEER and its partners are looking at putting in place a district-by-district strategy for the 62 districts in the three countries, where we have tailored interventions in every district that are appropriate to the circumstances in that district.”
“The first 60, we were focused on deployment capabilities and turning the disease around, now we're focused on aiming down towards zero through this district-by-district approach,” according to the head of UNMEER.
And Dr. Nabarro said “as transmission reduces, emphasis shifts to recovery and the renewal, though all of us must remain engaged and vigilant.”
“We must prevent the return of Ebola to areas freed of the disease,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, Dr. Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director-General in charge of the Ebola response for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), cautioned reporters that the targets set for today were important milestones.
But he cautioned: “You eventually have to get 100 percent safe burials, you eventually have to get 100 percent of people into treatment facilities” and complement that with case findings and contract tracing.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), meanwhile, said today that it has assisted the Government of Sierra Leone with two nationwide payments in November of more than 12,000 Ebola response workers, while in Guinea and Liberia, efforts are underway to check lists of workers and reinforce existing payment systems.
The Head of UNDP, Helen Clark, stressed that success in the response, down to the district level, depends on the women and men who are risking their lives every day to fight the disease and that paying them in a timely fashion is crucial.
UNMEER also reported that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali announced over the weekend that his country has no more confirmed cases of Ebola after the last patient known to be suffering from the virus was cured.