The last mile in the fight against Ebola will be the hardest
(New York, 5 February 2015): Returning to New York after a week-long visit to Ebola-affected countries, John Ging, OCHA’s Director of Operations, today lauded the heroic work of all those responding to the outbreak, while calling on the international community to not be complacent at what is the most difficult phase in the fight to eliminate the virus.
“I was told repeatedly by partners that the last mile in the fight against Ebola will be the hardest,” said Mr. Ging. “While remarkable progress has been made, we must not forget that it only takes one new case to start a new outbreak.”
According to WHO there have been almost 22,500 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola Virus Disease reported in the three worst-affected countries since the outbreak began in 2014, including almost 9,000 people who have died. Although the number of new cases has dropped dramatically since the outbreak’s peak, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea all saw an increase in new cases last week, underscoring the fact that the battle is not yet won. National authorities and international organizations have called for renewed focus on sensitization, contact tracing and surveillance as the lynchpins to finally stemming the tide of the outbreak.
“Communities have mobilized in an unprecedented way to combat this devastating epidemic,” said John Ging. “But there are still far too many cases that we are unable to trace. We must not become complacent.”
While the fight against Ebola remains the top priority, during his visit, Mr. Ging was also told of the immense humanitarian needs the crisis has generated across the three countries. The outbreak has left more than 10,000 children without one or both parents, killed breadwinners and caregivers, and threatened livelihoods. Survivors are traumatized both physically and psychologically, and many are unable to return home due to stigma. The closure of schools left more than 5 million children without education for months. Malnutrition – already prevalent in these three countries – may increase in the months ahead, while no vaccination campaigns in months means measles cases are on the rise and the upcoming rainy season is expected to bring a spike in malaria. Without lifesaving emergency obstetric care, more than 120,000 women could face complications during birth that might be life-threatening to them and/or their babies, across the three countries where primary health care systems have been decimated by the crisis.
Non-governmental organizations remain on the frontline providing communities with vital medical and other humanitarian services and supplies. “I had the opportunity of visiting the impressive International Medical Corps Ebola Treatment Unit in Port Loko District when I was in Sierra Leone. I was inspired by the courageous work aid workers are doing there to provide not just medical treatment, but also psychosocial support, to victims and survivors, their families and communities,” said Mr. Ging.
“Over the past year, the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have faced unspeakable fear, pain, loss, grief and suffering with courage and determination,” underscored John Ging. “Hope is returning but the challenges are enormous. The international community must stay the course, not only to eliminate the virus but to help with the recovery.”