UN: Outgoing head of UN Ebola mission sums up progress

New York, US (PANA) - Outgoing head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), Anthony Banbury, on Friday pointed to significant progress in tackling the outbreak, since he was appointed in September last year, while stressing that zero case is the only acceptable outcome in the "big battle" with the disease.

"It is important to remember where we were when we started,"  UN statement quoted Mr. Banbury telling journalists in Accra, Ghana, where the mission is headquartered.

He stated: "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 cases instead of 1.4 million. That is 1.4 per cent of what was being projected as a possibility by credible scientists back in September."

He pointed to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on the epidemic, which counts 20,206 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 7,905 reported deaths.

The UN official, on his last trip to review progress in the three most affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, also revealed an increased number of isolation beds in all three countries, with two beds per patient in Guinea, 3.5 in Sierra Leone, and 14 in Liberia.

Mr. Banbury also noted that, with support from UNMEER and other partners, all three countries also had capacity sufficient to isolate and treat 100 per cent of confirmed Ebola patients and enough burial teams to ensure safe and dignified burials for 100 per cent of all deaths due to the disease.

He, however, said that, despite the progress,several challenges remained, including the geographical dispersion of Ebola, adding: "There was also a need to change community behaviours and reduce resistance to the massive interventions attempted."

"We are engaged in a big battle with this disease. It is an insidious, invasive disease that attacks people through acts of caring and kindness; it is going to be extremely hard for us to bring it down to zero but that is what we will do. That is the only acceptable outcome," he stressed.

According to Mr. Banbury, setting such ambitious targets was an "obligation in order to bring the crisis to an end as quickly as possible".

To achieve it, he said, effective community engagement would be essential and underlined the need to maintain vigilance and commitment as the number of cases continued to drop.

The outgoing UNMEER chief also said: "It is a bit like putting seat belts in cars. If you have seat belts in cars you can save a lot of lives, but only if people use those seat belts," adding that, "working with affected communities was a privilege."

The press conference was his final briefing as head of the UNMEER, as Mr. Banbury hands over the reins of UNMEER to Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Saturday.

Meanwhile, UNMEER has announced that Mr. Ahmed would be visiting the affected countries next week to reinforce the mission’s strategic priorities.

Before his new appointment, the Mauritanian national was Deputy Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya.
-0- PANA AA/MA 2Jan2015

02 january 2015 20:12:29

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