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Military medical teams needed for Ebola response, says Doctors Without Borders

A woman, center, reacts as she and others celebrate on the streets outside of West Point, that have been closed in by Liberian security forces to stop all movement the past week in a attempt to control the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)

For the first time in nearly two decades, Doctors Without Borders is calling for a military intervention to a health crisis.

The France-based medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the UN that immediate support is needed to contain the Ebola crisis in West Africa. MSF President Joanne Liu called for civilian or military medical teams to be deployed in the next few days, during a special briefing organized by the office of the UN Secretary General and the World Health Organisation.

“This is a transnational crisis, with social, economic and security implications for the African continent. It is your historic responsibility to act,” said Liu, in her prepared remarks.

She was clear in saying that such action does not mean that military force should be used to quarantine infected areas or be used to control crowds.

“We cannot cut off the affected countries and hope this epidemic will simply burn out. To put out this fire, we must run into the burning building,” she said.

The Liberian government attempted to quarantine the West Point slum in the capitol city of Monrovia. It was lifted this past Saturday to the joy of the residents who were trapped in for ten days. Multiple reports indicated that residents of West Point employed various tactics to evade the quarantine, from sneaking out to paying bribes to the soldiers charged with keeping them in. People were jubilant upon hearing the announcement late Friday.

“The road is jam-packed,” said Abubakar Bah, a man who manages a drug dispensary near the main entrance, to the New York Times. “Everybody is very happy. Most people here still don’t believe there is Ebola in West Point. They’re saying that the government came and didn’t find Ebola, and so that’s why they’re leaving.”

Ebola Map Aug 2014

The weekend also saw the outbreak arrive in a new country. Ebola was brought to Dakar, Senegal by a 21-year-old Guinean student who traveled from Guinea to seek better treatment. Health officials are tracing the people who came in contact with the student in order to prevent the outbreak from spreading in the country. Nigeria experienced a similar problem when another young man with Ebola entered the country. Ebola has infected 17 people in Nigeria so far.

The major problems are still in the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 1,500 people have died due to the outbreak and more than 3,000 have been infected, according to the WHO’s August 28 update. The pace of the spread of the outbreak and the inability to contain it is leading to more concerns. Dr. Tom Frieden, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed his concerns following a trip to the three countries.

“There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing. We need action now to scale up the response,” said Frieden to the press. “It’s spreading from just two roots; people caring for other people in hospitals or homes and unsafe burial practices where people may come into contact with body fluids from somebody who’s died from Ebola. That is really the Achilles’ heel of this virus. We know how it spreads. We know how to stop it from spreading. The challenge is to do that everywhere it’s needed.”

Countries are working together under the umbrella of a plan launched by the World Health Organization, last week. The Ebola Response Roadmap provides a plan for response over the next six to nine months. It notably increases the amount of money requested from $100 million to $500 million. The announcement was met with cautions support. As Liu said at the UN yesterday, action is needed today to prevent the outbreak from getting worse.

“While funding announcements, roadmaps, and finding vaccines and treatments are welcome, they will not stop the epidemic today,” said Liu. “We have been losing for the past six months. We must win over the next three. And we can.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]