UN steps up response as Ebola death toll mounts

The United Nations has taken the unprecedented step of creating a multi-agency mission to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Nearly six months after the first case of Ebola in West Africa was reported, more than 5,500 people have been struck down by the virus, with more than 2,500 of these dying from the infection.

Over that time, the disease has spread into four countries, despite efforts to contain the infected groups.

Now the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council have set up a Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), the first time the UN has created a mission for a public health emergency.

“This is not just a public health crisis. This is a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, to the UN Security Council on Thursday. “For these reasons, Mr Secretary-General and I are calling for a UN-wide initiative that draws together all the assets of all relevant UN agencies.”

The Mission will bring together the vast resources of the UN agencies, funds and programmes, to reinforce WHO’s technical expertise and experience in disease outbreaks.

The WHO says the support of other UN agencies is essential to deal with the social, economic, development and security challenges that are affecting these countries and the region.

“This unprecedented outbreak requires an unprecedented response,” said Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary General’s Senior Co-ordinator for the Ebola Response. “The number of cases have doubled in these countries in the last three weeks. To get in front off this, the response must be increased 20-fold from where it is today.”

The Mission will immediately begin to pull together the assets from the relevant agencies. The hub of the Mission will be located in Accra, Ghana. It will bring together the collective assets of the UN and work closely with the governments in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In terms of new vaccines and treatments for the disease, co-ordinated global action has helped accelerate a new drugs into clinical trials. These includes a new vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline and the US National Institutes of Health, which was given to the first healthy volunteers last week.

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