Ebola Devastates Lives – And The World Cannot Afford To Ignore It

Alok Sharma

Ebola is a horrific disease. It spreads and kills swiftly, causing its victims untold suffering. Left unchecked, it will wipe out entire families, run riot through communities and spread across borders, making it a threat to us all.

In the last week, details emerged of new treatments which could cure this lethal disease. This is encouraging news and builds on the UK’s efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak which is happening right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The world cannot afford to ignore this disease, nor the threat it poses, not just to the DRC, but also to the wider region and beyond.

Through UK aid, we have already helped deliver life-saving vaccines, built treatment centres and provided ambulances and protective suits to fight Ebola in the DRC and we are applying the expertise we acquired during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa of 2013 to 2016.

But with an epidemic like this, it is not only a matter of having the right equipment, but also having the right people.

Right now, doctors and health workers from the UK, from around the world, and from the region itself are taking on Ebola on the frontline. These brave men and women are risking their lives to deliver aid and save the lives of others. For this selfless act we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Almost 2,000 people in the DRC and the surrounding region have lost their lives to the disease in the last year. Recent cases in the province of South Kivu and the densely populated city of Goma, on the Rwandan border, highlight the very real threat Congolese people and aid workers face every day.

Only the West Africa Ebola outbreak was bigger than the current crisis.

But the West Africa outbreak was different. The risks in eastern DRC do not come only from the disease itself. Aid workers are trying to deliver life-saving treatment in an active conflict zone. It is appalling that they are routinely targeted and attacked. 

And that is why today, on World Humanitarian Day, I want to highlight the important work they do and recognise the extraordinary commitment they display.

Later this week, I am travelling to Uganda to hear directly from some of these brave health workers about their experiences.

I will make sure on my visit that everyone knows they have the full support of the UK, as we continue to show leadership in the fight against Ebola.

That is why I am announcing that the UK will give an extra £8 million to countries that neighbour eastern DRC – Uganda, South Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda – to help them prepare for and prevent the spread of Ebola.

This money will build on the leading work that the UK is already doing to tackle this deadly outbreak and strengthen health systems across Africa.

In Uganda, we have already helped build two treatment units, trained health workers in 22 districts, funded 16 ambulances to help people in areas most at risk and provided protective clothing at borders to help screen people, as well as supporting the vaccination of health workers.

With preventative measures like these, three cases of Ebola in Uganda in June were detected immediately. Health workers on the ground worked tirelessly to treat the people affected but their lives could not be saved.

One of the key lessons we have learned from the DRC outbreak of Ebola and from the outbreak in West Africa, is that preventing the spread of the disease requires neighbouring countries to be prepared to stop it crossing borders.

There is still potentially a high risk of Ebola spreading to other countries surrounding the DRC, as people cross porous borders every day.

We know that more needs to be done to make people aware of the dangers. People coming forward for treatment in the first few days of showing symptoms is key to ending the Ebola outbreak, so we must tackle the stigma and scepticism surrounding vaccines and health centres.

To do this effectively, we must support health workers and community leaders in their work to tackle and eradicate this horrific disease.

The world cannot afford to ignore this disease, nor the threat it poses, not just to the DRC, but also to the wider region and beyond.

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