‘The clock is ticking and Ebola is winning': outbreak requires ‘quasi-military intervention’

MASL Personal Protective Supplies destined for Lumley Gov Hospital waited weeks to go by air due to flight cancellations, and arrived last week, the day that Doctor Buck at Lumley Hospital was confirmed with Ebola.

The death of Dr Buck is devastating. Our thoughts are with Dr Buck, her family, friends and colleagues and with all struggling to control this outbreak. Like many health workers, the staff at Lumley Government Hospital have been working without adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), leaving them in an intolerable position.

Despite repeated calls by MSF for a massive mobilisation on the ground, the international response to Ebola has been lethally inadequate. In an interview with the Guardian last week, the microbiologist who helped identify the Ebola virus in 1976 urged David Cameron to support a “quasi-military intervention” to stop the current epidemic. Prof Peter Piot called for increased resources, including the use of NHS staff who wish to volunteer, “This requires a state of emergency and a kind of quasi-military intervention – and it’s not my style to exaggerate….I think there’s still no sense that this is an absolute emergency and catastrophe,” he said. “I call on the government and the prime minister to intensify the country’s efforts and provide assistance, and to accelerate it also.”

Piot said Cameron should sanction the release of up to 100 NHS doctors and nurses to go to Sierra Leone and Liberia and called on the UN to put an international emergency programme into action. “There is no way that the three countries effected most can handle this on their own,” he said.

Piot also called on British Airways and other airlines including Air France to resume flying to the two countries, saying the closure of services this summer “has not been helpful” to the aid effort. He said security could be guaranteed if passengers were screened before boarding.

MSF have been making it clear for some time that the epidemic is overwhelming and needs urgent resources. “The clock is ticking and Ebola is winning,” said Dr Liu, International President of MSF. “The time for meetings and planning is over.  It is now time to act. Every day of inaction means more deaths and the slow collapse of societies.”

‘In the immediate term, field hospitals with isolation wards must be scaled up, trained personnel must be dispatched, mobile laboratories must be deployed to improve diagnostics, air bridges must be established to move personnel and material to and within West Africa, and a regional network of field hospitals must be established to treat medical personnel with suspected or actual infections’.

Major and urgent intervention to control the outbreak is now required. Health workers need protection. The resumption of flights is essential. It is not possible to exaggerate the impact of the Ebola outbreak: people are afraid to leave their communities for essential items and support, are avoiding health centres for treatment for conditions such as malaria and diarrhoea disease, are giving birth without medical supervision, and struggling to meet the rising costs of food and everyday items. Communication is breaking down as charging mobile phones in rural areas becomes a major logistical challenge, leading to increased isolation at a time of desperate need.

Communities in Sierra Leone have no additional social and economic capacity to deal with the effects of this crisis. Large scale international cooperation is required as a matter of urgency.