Ebola is back and containing the virus will be more difficult than last time

Written by Claire Rogers, World Vision Australia CEO. Published by SBS Dateline.

Between 2013 and 2016, Ebola swept through West Africa, killing more than 11,000 people. Now, writes World Vision CEO, Claire Rogers, the virus is spreading in a war-zone, which means aid workers are facing a new set of challenges.

Africa is fighting another Ebola outbreak – the second worst in recorded history – and this time women and children make up 90 per cent of new cases. 

The World Health Organisation announced intentions to have Ebola under control by December last year. It’s now April and the death toll is at 750 and rising rapidly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country whose issues have been largely overlooked by the international community.  

What has made this Ebola outbreak so difficult to halt is that it’s taking place in a war-zone. Operations in such a conflict-prone area are more complex.

In the past few weeks aid workers have been affected by attacks on Ebola treatment centres. Patients fled, causing further spread.

Tensions and violence between armed groups and community members continue to terrorise residents and force unarmed aid workers to retreat or temporarily stop their effort. Many residents are fearful and sceptical about Ebola, who is responsible for causing it and in some cases whether it actually exists.

Trying to contain Ebola in such a volatile landscape is difficult, costly and takes a toll on the frontline workers. The people fighting Ebola are doing all they can, while funding gaps continue to grow.

International governments must recognise they should fight the virus early rather than wait until after it has spread – that is a hard lesson learned from the last major Ebola outbreak.

In the DRC, humanitarian organisations like World Vision are training health workers, distributing hygiene kits and running community awareness programs. We’re also seeing similar prevention and screening programs across the border in countries like South Sudan. But there’s so much more to be done.

The World Health Organisation has only received half the money it needs to tackle Ebola. It takes a global effort to contain the virus through vaccines, treatment, tracing, screening and awareness programs. We also need safe access for frontline health workers – both international staff and local community nurses and doctors.

With another freeze on Australian aid, where will Australia’s leadership be in all of this?

Make no mistake – the threat of Ebola will always exist when there’s poverty and limited access to health facilities. And in the case of DRC, which is where the Ebola virus originates, conflict makes tackling these issues and stopping Ebola in its tracks so much harder. Australia would be wise to act before Ebola reaches our shores.

Photo by Patrick Meinhardt.

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