In an unexpected turn of events, Cuba has announced that it will send over the largest medical team yet to aid West Africa during the worst Ebola outbreak in history. More than 2 400 people have now died of Ebola, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), prompting calls for a stronger international response in alleviating the crisis.
At a recent news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO head Margaret Chan called on the nations of the world to send more people to the three most stricken countries in the region -- Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. More than anything, she says, these nations need expert health professionals who know how to deal with the virus, which kills roughly half of those it infects.
"The thing we need most of all is people," Chan stated, calling on an additional 1 000 local doctors and nurses, and about 500 foreign health professionals, to help contain the disease.
Responding to the call, Cuba has pledged to send 165 doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone, which Chan says is the largest commitment thus far. When they arrive during the first week of October, the 62 Cuban doctors and 103 nurses will remain there for six months. All of them have previously given aid in "post-catastrophe situations," stated Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda, who was also at the news conference.
Liberia completely runs out of beds for Ebola patients
This is great for Sierra Leone. But Liberia, the hardest-hit country, is still in desperate need of on-the-ground aid, as there are reportedly no more available beds at hospitals anywhere in the nation. WHO has promised not to abandon Liberia during its time of need, and the group has been working to open a new 120-bed facility in Monrovia, the nation's capital.
"We are here to stay the course and to help the people of Liberia and its neighbours to get through this terrible crisis," stated U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous to Agence France-Presse.
Ladsous has been working closely with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her cabinet to fight the outbreak, which has put major economic strain on the already embattled nation. WHO said the spread of Ebola has reached an exponential growth rate, with potentially tens of thousands of new cases emerging in the coming weeks.
"One has to recognise that a peacekeeping mission is not a public health operator," admitted Ladsous. "But at the same time, we are there to support the country... to solve the root causes of a very long crisis."
Liberian president calls on Obama for help, says country will end up in civil chaos
In a letter to Barack Obama, Sirleaf pleaded for help from the U.S. in addressing the Ebola crisis. She warned that, unless the U.S. intercedes and provides additional aid, her country will likely spiral into the type of civil chaos that plagued the nation for nearly two decades during the First Liberian Civil War, a conflict that lasted from 1989 to 1997.
Sirleaf says Liberia needs at least 1 500 additional beds set up throughout the country to treat all the patients flocking to overwhelmed treatment centers. She is specifically calling on the U.S. military to establish its own 100-bed Ebola hospital in Monrovia, the country's beleaguered capital.
"I am being honest with you when I say that at this rate, we will never break the transmission chain and the virus will overwhelm us," pleaded Sirleaf in her letter to Obama.
Sources for this article include:
Written by Jonathan Benson
Featured image: Equateur, DR Congo, September 4, 2014: A member of the Health Minister’s delegation (center) is having his temperature taken with a laser thermometer. Before and after crossing the Lomela river, 18 km from Boende, on the way leading to Lokolia, the epicenter of the Ebola virus disease outbreak, all passengers must be tested for symptoms of the virus. Photo Eugène Kabambi/OMS