Ade Daramy - Chair and Spokesperson for the UK Sierra Leone Ebola Task Force
Kevin Watkins - Executive Director, ODI
Dr David Nabarro - UN Special Envoy on Ebola
Lynne Featherstone MP - Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development
Professor Moses Bockarie - Director, Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr - Chairperson and co-founder of SLWT (Sierra Leone War Trust for Children)
Dr Colin Brown - Infectious Diseases Lead, King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, Connaught Hospital, Freetown
Vickie Hawkins - Executive Director, MSF UK
ODI’s Executive Director Kevin Watkins kicked off the discussion, contrasting the urgency of the issue – currently infection rates double every 21 days – with the inadequacy of the global response. What this crisis shows, he said, is the weakness of the multilateral response and severe underinvestment in the global public good of public health.
David Nabarro, UN Special Envoy on Ebola, joined the discussion via videoconference from Geneva. He outlined some of the particular difficulties with this Ebola outbreak, such as its spread into urban areas, and gave 12 defining characteristics of the response including a lack of beds and basic equipment in treatment centres. He called for a 20-fold scale up the international Ebola response.
Dr Colin Brown, Infectious Diseases Lead at a Sierra Leone hospital, showed some striking graphs from the American Center for Disease Control showing that even with actions being taken to reduce the current high transmission rates, the number of new daily cases in Liberia will soon exceed the planned new capacity. He emphasised the importance of strengthening already fragile health systems in West Africa, rather than setting up parallel systems in the short term.
Professor Moses Bockarie from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine highlighted the disproportionate impact this epidemic is having on women – 75% of health workers who die of Ebola are women. ‘The Ebola virus is preying on love, care and compassion,’ he said.
UK Minister for Africa Lynne Featherstone outlined UK action on Ebola, including £100 million in funding and facilitating 400 NHS workers to support the effort in Sierra Leone. We need to rally the global community, she said – the Department for International Development will hold an international conference this Thursday on defeating Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Vickie Hawkins, Executive Director of MSF UK, said this outbreak is challenging MSF like never before – it has fallen on the organisation to lead the international response, and it is totally overwhelmed. It admits only a small fraction of those who arrive at its treatment centres because they are full. She called for the response to be drastically scaled up. ‘We have proved that Ebola can be beaten,’ she said, ‘but we require the political will to do so.’
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr from the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children discussed the economic impact of the Ebola crisis. People in the region feel like they are under siege, she said – economies are slowing, businesses are collapsing and people are losing their jobs. She urged the international community to strike the right balance between caution and hysteria to preserve people’s livelihoods.
A lively discussion followed, with questions from the audience on the role of governments and media in communicating the issue; the economic and social impacts of the epidemic; the role of the military in the international response, and more.
This year's Ebola outbreak has so far claimed the lives of thousands in West Africa. The rate of contamination is snowballing with some predicting that more than 500,000 could be infected by the end of January. What can be done to destroy Ebola and are we doing enough? Will the international community learn from this response and be better prepared for future epidemics?
This ODI public event brought together a panel of experts, officials and aid workers with first-hand experience of the crisis to debate these crucial questions.