More military, more medics and more money needed to prevent definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation

Africa, Emergencies, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 20 Oct 2014

In a battle against the clock, with less than two months left in the window set out by the UN to curb the spread of the Ebola virus ravaging in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, there is still a crippling shortfall in military staff to provide the logistical support that is desperately needed. This includes building treatment centres, providing flights and both engineering and logistical support.

More doctors and nurses are needed to staff the treatment centres, and there is a significant shortfall in funding that must be filled to support the emergency humanitarian response.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke welcomed the $18million in assistance provided by the Australian Government to date, but said that funding alone would not meet the urgent need for more capable personnel, including military, in order to break transmission rates and halt the spread of the disease.

“We are in the eye of a storm. We cannot allow Ebola to immobilise us in fear, but instead we must move toward a common mission to stop it from getting worse,” Dr Szoke said.

“Countries that have failed to commit troops, doctors and enough funding are in danger of costing lives. The speed and scale of the intervention needed is unprecedented. Only a concerted and co-ordinated global effort will stop the spread.”

The Ebola crisis could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation. The world was unprepared to deal with it. It is extremely rare for Oxfam to call for military intervention to provide logistical support in a humanitarian emergency. However, the military’s logistical expertise and capacity to respond quickly in great numbers is vital. The military mission must be under civil coordination.

The US and the UK have led the way, committing 4,000 and 750 troops respectively. However, only some of these troops are on the ground, with most of the US contingent due by November 1.

Italy, Australia and Spain have committed no troops, despite Spain having a specialist medical expertise unit in its military. Germany has committed to military supply flights and plans a military hospital in the region. France has some military staff in Guinea where personnel are reportedly building a hospital, and has issued a call-up to medical reservists. While Oxfam understands the tremendous logistical and medevac challenges for international responders, it is urging the Governments including Australia to work with international partners to find workable arrangements in order to massively strengthen and accelerate the mobilization of urgently-needed personnel.

A fund established by the UN Secretary General in September to fight Ebola estimated a need for almost US$1bn for the next six months. To date approximately only half of this is funded. Oxfam is appealing for $40 million to triple its emergency response in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is nowhere near this target yet.

Oxfam Humanitarian Manger Meg Quartermaine said Oxfam was concentrating its main efforts in Sierra Leone and Liberia on helping to prevent the spread of Ebola, through clean water and sanitation provision and public education.

“Providing treatment is vital, however reducing the spread of infection is equally important, which is why we need the massive intervention of resources immediately,” Ms Quartermaine said.

Oxfam has scaled up its water and sanitation supply to Ebola treatment centres and community care centres, and has increased it’s supplying of hygiene materials, like soap and bleach. It is raising awareness on how people can best protect themselves from catching the disease by distributing public health messages via radio, billboards and text messages. It is also distributing personal protective clothing for front line community health workers and burial teams, training community health workers and helping to build treatment centres. The aid agency is also working on prevention in Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal.

The number of Ebola cases, and suspected Ebola cases, is almost 9,000, claiming more than 4,500 lives. Infection rates continue to grow with the number of cases doubling about every 20 days. The WHO has put the death rate from this outbreak at 70 per cent and has warned that there could be 10,000 new cases a week in West Africa by December. 

For interviews or more information, please contact Angus Hohenboken on 0428 367 318 or