Only two viruses have ever been discussed by the UN Security Council, both terrifying blood-borne viruses that first emerged in Africa — HIV/AIDS, which first brought the Security Council together in 2000, and Ebola, the subject of an unusual resolution that was passed unanimously on Thursday.
As the West African outbreak reaches catastrophic proportions — Ebola cases are now believed to be doubling every three weeks — the Security Council convened its first-ever emergency meeting on a public health issue. The result was a 15-0 vote declaring Ebola a “threat to international peace and security” and urging countries to lift travel restrictions and send desperately needed personnel and supplies to West Africa.
The vote capped off a week that saw glimmers of hope that developed countries are finally awakening to a global health crisis that first began in March. But as pointed out by David Nabarro, who is leading the United Nations’ Ebola fight, the virus is still sprinting ahead of the emergency response, which needs to be increased by at least 20-fold.
“The outbreak is accelerating away from the control effort,” he warned the Security Council in New York. “And the longer it does that, the harder it is to get it under control.”
Here are the most important Ebola developments from the past week:
The UN Security Council passes an emergency resolution
When the resolution passed on Thursday, it had an unprecedented 130 co-sponsors — more than any other resolution before it, according to Security Council President and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also announced he was taking the “unprecedented step” of establishing the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), with plans to have its advance team on the ground by the end of the month.
“We cannot afford delays,” he said, noting that cases in Liberia alone will soon exceed the toll from every outbreak in Ebola’s four-decade history.
Front-line danger deepens as health team found dead, MSF worker infected
A team of health workers and journalists were found dead in Guinea on Thursday, according to several media reports. The team — which included local administrators, two medical officers, a preacher and three journalists, according to Reuters — went missing after visiting a village in Nzerekore, the same region where false rumours about medics infecting villagers recently caused riots to break out. The eight were pelted with rocks and then “killed in cold blood,” according to a government spokesperson; their bodies were recovered from a septic tank and three had their throats slit.
This week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also announced that a French staffer has tested positive for Ebola; she has since been evacuated from Liberia for treatment. This marks the first time in MSF history that an international employee has been infected by the deadly virus.
Ebola suddenly becomes a billion-dollar fight
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced it could cost nearly $1 billion to contain the Ebola outbreak within the “tens of thousands.” This forecast is dramatically more dire than what the WHO predicted in a strategic plan released three weeks ago, which proposed a $490-million budget and a worst-case scenario of more than 20,000 cases.
“Quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, this health crisis we’re facing is unparalleled in modern times,” the WHO’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward told reporters in Geneva. “We don’t know where the numbers are going on this.”
The U.S. scales up, big time
The United States is finally throwing some weight behind the Ebola fight — which, according to MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu, is a good start but “absolutely not enough.” On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced several major commitments: 3,000 troops deployed to West Africa; the establishment of a central command centre in Liberia and 17 new treatment facilities; and personnel to train thousands of health-care workers, as well as thousands of “home health care” kits.
This week, the World Bank also announced that Ebola threatens to deal a “catastrophic” blow to the affected countries’ economies and approved a $105-million grant towards the emergency response. Other countries have also made new pledges, including the Canadian government which recently offered the WHO $2.5 million in personal protective equipment.