Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the head of the United Nations mission against the Ebola virus in Africa, told the BBC he expects the outbreak that began in February 2014 to be vanquished “by the end of the summer.”
In what year?
Noting that Ahmed initially mentioned “August” as the estimated date for the end of the virus’ reign over Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the BBC notes that Ahmed also admitted its prolonged ravaging of West Africa was partially exacerbated by “arrogant” decisions made on the part of United Nations officials. “There was probably a lack of knowledge and there was a certain degree of arrogance, but I think we are learning lessons,” he told BBC. He added, “We have been running away from giving any specific date, but I am pretty sure myself that it will be gone by the summer.”
His remarks on the failures of the UN in combating the Ebola virus follow revelations last week by the Associated Press that the World Health Organization refused to declare an official state of emergency in west Africa over Ebola for fear of disturbing the politics of the region. According to emails the AP obtained, among the reasons listed for not calling the outbreak an emergency were the potential of outrage on behalf of African politicians and the possibility that such an announcement would disturb the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The WHO isn’t fit for purpose. It’s lost its way. It devotes more of its attention to preventing smoking than preventing communicable diseases.
While the virus’ spread has been curbed significantly, fears are resurfacing that a resurgence of the outbreak is underway. In Liberia, the first Ebola case in two weeks was confirmed over the weekend: a cook in Liberia whom the Liberian Observer reports worked in a “cold bowl shop,” a common eating establishment with few sanitary precautions. Authorities are currently working to find every person the new Ebola patient personally served during the time frame she may have been contagious.
In a scathing new report, published Monday, Doctors Without Borders puts the blame squarely on a “global coalition of inaction” that waited months to respond to the epidemic.
“The Ebola epidemic proved to be an exceptional event that exposed the reality of how inefficient and slow health and aid systems are to respond to emergencies,” said said Dr Joanne Liu, the organization’s international president in the report, “Pushed to the Limit and Beyond.”
For example, by March 21, 2014, 78 victims had died, mostly in Guinea. The World Health Organization said at the time that while the Ebola outbreak is serious, it is “relatively small, still.”
“For the Ebola outbreak to spiral this far out of control required many institutions to fail,” said Christopher Stokes, the director general for Doctors Without Borders. “And they did, with tragic and avoidable consequences.”
Local hospitals were overwhelmed. International response was weak.
In Guinea, where the outbreak started, new cases continue to be identified. In the latest reporting period for the week prior to March 15, officials found 95 new Ebola cases — the highest weekly total in the country in 2015, according to the WHO.