Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides, whom EU leaders appointed on 24 October as EU Ebola Coordinator, said Monday (27 October) that the epidemic threatens to extend far beyond Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and confirmed his intention to visit the region during the second week of November.
The Cyprus Commissioner spoke to the press in the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre (RCC) in Brussels. In his new capacity as Ebola czar, Stylianides will take up his Commission job starting 1 November.
>> Read: Stylianides appointed EU Ebola czar
Stylianides said the entire international community was put to the test and should be ready to admit possible mistakes.
“Let us be sincere. In the case of the Ebola disease, the international community, all of us, underestimated the danger,” he said.
However, he added that the EU has been the first international player to react, that it had mobilised over €800 million in assistance to fight the epidemic, had put medical and humanitarian personnel on the ground, and had deployed mobile laboratories.
Stylianides also said the Union had beefed up the system for the evacuation of Western medical workers infected with the disease, which has been a major bottleneck for sending more personnel to the region.
But Stylianides insisted that more should be done, in a collective and coordinated way.
“The Ebola epidemic is putting the entire international community to the test. The lives of thousands of people in Western Africa rest in our ability to take action today”, he said, pleading for a common European response.
He said that beyond the human tragedy, the epidemic was having catastrophic effects on the security and the economy of the whole region, and threatened to extend much beyond West Africa.
Stylianides paid tribute to local and international humanitarian and health workers, whom he called the pillar of the response of the deadly disease. Of them, 443 have been infected by Ebola and 244 have died, he said.
Stylianides said he would go to West Africa in the second week of November, as he thought it important to send a message that “isolation is not the solution”. He first said that he will go to the countries affected by the epidemic during his confirmation hearing in the European Parliament.
The Cyprus Commissioner pledged to work with member states and their health authorities, as well as with the UN, the African Union and the USA. He said that was most needed to bring about was human expertise. Europe has skilled health staff and technicians who would be ready to volunteer, he said, calling on member states to mobilise such personnel using the services of the EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre (RCC) in Brussels.
‘We need to mobilise immediately at least 40,000 staff’, Stylianides said. On the ground, there was a shortage of 5000 beds and of 40,000 staff, the proportion being of 8 health workers per bed. However, it was later explained that is not necessary that all the staff should be brought from the West, and the estimated number of Western doctors and nurses needed was 2,000 to 3,000. The beds available at present are 1,000, and the number of Western personnel on the ground now was 2,000.
Claus Sørensen, the Director General of the European Commission´s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), explained that the number of volunteers was not a problem, but that those needed to be people with the right skills, and even those needed further training.
As an example, he said that 4,000 Germans had volunteered to go to West Africa to fight Ebola, but after screening, a very small number was selected.
Sørensen also said that it was important to use the potential of the region. He gave as an example a recent conference in Brazaville, with the participation of the countries hit by Ebola, which provided a very intensive training programme and discussed how to mobilise health workers in Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and other countries.
The official also paid tribute to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the French-founded humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization, who is the international community’s main partner organisation working on the ground.
The Ebola epidemic, the worst since the disease was discovered in 1976, has killed more than 4,900 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria and has also spread to Senegal.
Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever spread through the blood, sweat or vomit of those infected, making those working directly with the sick among the most vulnerable to the disease.
The WHO believes it will take six to nine months to contain and may infect up to 20,000 people.
14 of Liberia's 15 counties have reported confirmed cases. As soon as a new Ebola treatment centre is opened, it is immediately swamped with patients.
Liberia's government announced it was extending a nationwide nighttime curfew imposed last month to curb the spread of the disease.
There is not yet any macroeconomic analysis of Ebola's impact on West Africa, with IMF figures only indicating a modest decrease in growth for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But NGOs on the ground describe the situation as “catastrophic”.
The first case of infection with the Ebola virus in Europe took place in Spain.