Anthony Banbury and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed
The number of Ebola cases recorded from last year (2014) to the beginning of January this year has fallen below what scientists had predicted. They had expected cases of the deadly disease to climb up to 1.4 million over the period.
According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report, there are 20,206 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 7,905 reported deaths.
Head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Anthony Banbury, said the figure represents 1.4 per cent of what was predicted as a possibility by credible scientists back in September when the UN Mission was set up with its headquarters in Accra, Ghana.
‘It’s important to remember where we were when we started,’ Banbury told journalists at a press conference to give a final review of progress made in the fight against Ebola as he prepares to hand over the role to Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania.
‘At the time, there were predictions of up to 1.4 million cases of Ebola by the start of the year… Here we are in January and we have a total of around 20,000 instead of 1.4 million,’ he articulated.
Returning from a final review mission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Mr. Banbury, who was appointed in September, said the mission was engaged in a big battle with the insidious and invasive disease that attacks people through acts of caring and kindness.
‘It’s going to be extremely hard for us to bring it down to zero but that is what we will do. That’s the only acceptable outcome,’ he asserted.
The outgoing UNMEER head noted that significant progress had been made in the fight against Ebola over the past 90 days.
He pointed to the increased number of isolation beds in each country, which stands at two beds per patient in Guinea, 3.5 in Sierra Leone and 14 in Liberia.
With support from UNMEER and other partners, the three countries now have sufficient capacity to isolate and treat 100 per cent of confirmed Ebola patients and enough burial teams to ensure safe and dignified burial for 100 per cent of all deaths caused by Ebola.
Mr. Banbury however, said several challenges remained, which included geographical dispensation of the epidemic. He also cited adamancy to behavioural change and community resistance as major obstacles in some areas, despite massive interventions.
‘It’s a bit like putting seatbelts in cars,’ said Banbury. ‘If you have seat belts in the car you can save a lot of lives, but only if people use those seatbelts.’
The key to success, according to him, is to effectively engage with communities and also to maintain vigilance and commitment as the number of cases continues to drop.
‘It’s an obligation to set very ambitious targets so we can bring this crisis to an end as quickly as possible,’ he pointed out. ‘For the UN, it’s a very heavy responsibility. But it’s also a privilege to work with these communities and these people,’ he admitted.
Before his new appointment Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is to take over from Banbury, was the Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri
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