Ebola outbreak: MSF, World Bank head slam West's response

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

“World leaders are failing to address the worst ever Ebola epidemic, and states with biological-disaster response capacity, including civilian and military medical capability, must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa,” international health NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a September 2 statement.

These criticisms were echoed by World Bank president Jim Yong Kim the day before. He said slammed the “disastrously inadequate response” to the outbreak, which meant many were dying needlessly, the Morning Star reported on September 1.

Kim said Western healthcare facilities could easily contain the disease and urged wealthy nations to share knowledge and resources to help African countries tackle it.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Kim wrote: “The crisis we are watching unfold derives less from the virus and more from deadly and misinformed biases that have led to a disastrously inadequate response to the outbreak.”

He co-wrote the story with Harvard University Professor Paul Farmer, with whom he founded Partners In Health, a charity that works for improved healthcare in poorer countries.

The pair said that if international groups and wealthy nations mounted a co-ordinated response with west African nations, fatalities could drop from 50% to below 20%.

In the op-ed, they stated: “If the Ebola epidemic devastating the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had instead struck Washington, New York or Boston, there is no doubt that the health systems in place could contain and then eliminate the disease.”

In a speech delivered to UN member states, MSF International President Dr Joanne Liu denounced the lack of deployment of resources, which has to-date relied on overstretched health ministries and private NGOs, to tackle the exceptionally large outbreak.

Despite repeated calls by MSF for a huge mobilisation on the ground, the international response has been “lethally inadequate”.

Liu said: “The WHO announcement on August 8 that epidemic constituted a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ has not led to decisive action, and states have essentially joined a global coalition of inaction.”

MSF pointed out that many countries possess biological threat response mechanisms. This means they can deploy trained civilian or military medical teams in a matter of days, in an organised fashion, and with a chain of command to assure high standards of safety and efficiency to support the affected countries.

MSF insisted, however, that any military personnel deployed to the region should not be used for quarantine, containment, or crowd control measures. It said forced quarantines have only bred fear and unrest, rather than stem the virus.

“Funding announcements and the deployment of a few experts do not suffice,” said Liu. “States with the required capacity have a political and humanitarian responsibility to come forward and offer a desperately needed, concrete response to the disaster unfolding in front of the world’s eyes.

“Rather than limit their response to the potential arrival of an infected patient in their countries, they should take the unique opportunity to actually save lives where immediately needed, in West Africa.”

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

From GLW issue 1024