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World Bank injects $400m to boost Ebola fight

By Ronald Musoke & Agencies

With the spread of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa showing no signs of relenting, the World Bank is committing up to $400 million (over Shs 1 trillion) to help the worst-affected countries in West Africa address the emergency.

Speaking on Sept.25 during a special session on Ebola at the United Nations General Assembly, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim said the Bank will commit $230 million toward the emergency response and $170 million for medium- and long-term projects.

The new funding – which the World Bank’s board of executive directors will consider in the coming weeks – will be targeted at rapidly increasing the health care workforce and purchasing needed supplies in order to bring care and treatment to all parts of the affected countries.

The funding also is aimed at building a stronger health care system because it will aim to train cadres of health workers to boost care at a community level throughout the affected region

“The global community is now responding with the urgency and the scale needed to begin to turn back this unprecedented Ebola crisis,” said Kim.

“The real challenge now is to bring care and treatment to the most remote areas as well as the cities and then to build a stronger health care system. This funding will help the countries start a massive scale up of training of community health workers and bring needed supplies and equipment.

This support – coordinated closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations, the United States, and other international and country partners – has assisted countries in treating the sick, cope with the economic impact, and improve their public health systems.

The additional planned support will make $113 million that had been earmarked in the earlier package for longer-term help immediately available for the emergency response.

According to WHO more people have died in the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa than in all previous Ebola outbreaks combined since the virus was first discovered in 1976.  Currently the death toll stands at 2,811 out of 5,864 cases.

A World Bank analysis, released in mid-September, found that if the virus continues to surge in the three worst-affected countries, its economic impact could deal a potentially catastrophic blow to these already fragile states.

However, the analysis also found that economic costs can be limited if swift national and international responses succeed in containing the epidemic and mitigating fear resulting from people’s concerns about infection, which is fueling the economic impact.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Kim added that although the World Bank has been greatly encouraged by the major increase in assistance given by the international community, now all partners have to deliver on the ground to match the scale of the crisis.

“We can—we must—all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people. Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” said Kim.

Meanwhile a new study is warning that the Ebola outbreak in the region could infect 20,000 people by November and might ‘rumble on for years’ unless meticulous infection control measures are put into practice.

In an article published in the New England Journal, experts from WHO and Imperial College said infections will continue climbing exponentially unless patients are isolated, contacts traced and communities enlisted.

The study marks six months [since March 23] when WHO was formally informed of an Ebola epidemic in southeastern Guinea and reflects projections based on the data from a third wave of the virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Dr. Christopher Dye, the director of Strategy at WHO and co-author of the article said on Sept.23 that nearly 10,000 people of those infected would be in Liberia, 5,000 in Sierra Leone and nearly 6,000 in Guinea.

But even then, Dye said those numbers would only come about with no enhanced infection control.

“If control is completely successful in the way that we know it can be, then Ebola will disappear from the human population of West Africa and probably return to its animal reservoir,” he said.

“But if control efforts are only partly successful, Ebola viral disease in the human population could become a ‘permanent feature in life in West Africa,” Dye said.

Ever since Ebola was first reported in the region in March, the disease has left mayhem in its wake.

Hundreds of medical personnel have experienced resistance from some communities in the region. Medicins Sans Frontieres or Doctors without Borders, the main agency working in West Africa to stop Ebola said it has not been able to work in atleast 10 villages because of hostility among residents.

Many government health workers have fled their posts, afraid to work where the disease has killed hundreds of doctors, nurses while some communities have turned against government officials saying there has been a deliberate plan to infect them with Ebola—a disease that kills more than half those infected.

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