UN: UN health officials highlight role of emergency preparedness in Ebola fight

New York, US (PANA) - The deadly Ebola outbreak which ravaged West Africa for more than a year has demonstrated the increasing importance of emergency preparedness both in Africa and across the world.

This is according to two senior UN health officials who noted that if the current intense focus on case detection and contact tracing was maintained, the virus could be "soundly defeated" by year’s end.

Briefing the UN Security Council on Friday in New York on the global response to Ebola, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, observed that lacking public health capacities and infrastructures had combined to expose a dangerous vulnerability across the West African belt – from Guinea to Liberia – leading to an outbreak unprecedented in scale and duration.

She said: "Only an equally unprecedented response by the international community and by individual governments had helped stem the advancing tide of the disease."

"Indeed, if the current intensity of case detection and contact tracing is sustained, the virus can be soundly defeated by the end of this year, and that means getting to zero and staying at zero," she noted.

Dr. Chan stated: "Surveillance and response capacities have vastly improved. We have a very good picture of current chains of transmission and know how to break them, and this is a night-and-day difference from the situation less than a year ago.

"I can assure you: the progress is real and it has been hard-earned."

She also underlined a series of critical reforms WHO would implement, including the establishment of a global health emergency workforce, an operational platform that can shift into high gear quickly, performance benchmarks, and avenues aimed at acquiring the needed funding.

Beyond that, she said, individual governments had also greatly improved their healthcare outlook in steps that greatly increased the prospects that Ebola-affected communities would survive.

"The Ebola outbreak in West Africa shocked the world out of its complacency about the infectious disease threat, and we witnessed the decisive role of vigilance and readiness in countries that experienced an important case," Dr. Chan stressed.

The UN noted that the first cases of the current Ebola outbreak were reported in March 2014 in Guinea and quickly spread across the region to Sierra Leone and Liberia killing more than 11,000 people in an epidemic that also saw isolated cases pop up in the US and in Europe.

It, however, disclosed that no new cases had been reported prompting some optimism among the international medical community.

Also speaking, the UN Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, similarly spotlighted three components of the Ebola response – from the nurturing of "powerful and decisive leadership" and the "importance of community ownership" to the response to "the value of working together in long-term solidarity".

"When people themselves define the support they require, when they are able quickly to access the assistance they need, when they need it, challenges and obstacles are quickly overcome," he explained.

Dr. Nabarro, however, cautioned that, unexpected new outbreaks of disease in the future would demand more honed and cohesive emergency preparedness planning on behalf of the international community as a whole.

"Human security depends on being able to anticipate these outbreaks, to react quickly, to curtail spread and to prevent suffering.

"Societies that collectively recognize threats to health, that proactively address these challenges, and that engage with their health systems in the response are at the heart of secure nations and a safer world," he stated.
-0- PANA AA/MA 13Aug2015

13 august 2015 20:05:51

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