Strasbourg round-up: MEPs back EU emergency Ebola plan

Written by Cristian Dan Preda, Lind McAvan, Catherine Beader, Jean Lambert and Ignazio Corrao on 18 September 2014 in Special Report
Special Report

MEPs from across the political spectrum are calling on the European Union to take urgent action to tackle the Ebola crisis.

Cristian Dan Preda (EPP) is a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

Ebola has been declared a public health emergency of international concern. Yet we are in the eighth month of the outbreak and the situation keeps worsening. It is high time to for this humanitarian and security crisis to be solved and EU should play a leading role in the process.

"We need first and foremost to display the political will to maintain a sustained and close focus on Ebola that spreads beyond the media attention span" - Cristian Dan Preda

The EU response should be three-fold. First of all, it should include coordination with all international partners and particularly the US in the fight against this epidemic. The UN is the most appropriate forum to deal with this crisis and the European commission should speed up its coordination efforts for a joint response. Moreover, the financial support promised needs to be delivered as soon as possible, in order to stop the rapid spreading of the epidemic. Finally, support for the African Union in drawing up a holistic action plan, dealing with the political, security, economic and social implications of the outbreak, is crucial.
 
But beyond all these actions, we need first and foremost to display the political will to maintain a sustained and close focus on Ebola that spreads beyond the media attention span. We need not only to solve this crisis, but also to prevent similar outbreaks in the future. If there is one gap in European policies that Ebola has underlined, it is mostly the lack of sufficient funds allocated to medical research and this gap has to be addressed.

 

Linda MacAvan (S&D) is a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

Part of my role as the chair of the [environment, public health and food safety] committee is to ensure the EU reacts promptly to emergencies around the world - not only to direct aid where it is needed the most but to provide European taxpayers with assurances that money is being spent in the most effective way possible. There have been almost five thousand confirmed Ebola cases so far, with the number of cases nearly doubling every three weeks. The longer that the pandemic goes on, the greater the risk of the virus mutating, which could have truly devastating consequences.

"The world’s decision makers have been too slow to react to the danger and we must scale up our operations in order to avoid any further unnecessary deaths" - Linda McAvan

The world’s decision makers have been too slow to react to the danger and we must scale up our operations in order to avoid any further unnecessary deaths. Stopping the virus from reaching European shores is of the utmost importance for us.

The money will go primarily to the European Commission’s partners working on the front line, the world health organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the International Red Cross, with MEPs acknowledging the heroic efforts of voluntary aid workers. Identifying and isolating patients, as well as training local health workers and supplying them with the equipment they need to protect both themselves and the wider community has been essential in curbing the spread of the disease.

Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria will benefit from the long-term development funding, which will provide humanitarian assistance to the populations directly affected by the epidemic, fund mobile laboratories and provide training for healthcare staff to improve hygiene and healthcare infrastructure to prevent a resurgence of the disease.

 

Jan Zahradil (ECR) is a a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

Over recent past months the threat of Ebola virus has become so widespread in western Africa and well-known that there is not a single one of us who has not heard about it. So far the death toll of the virus is more than 2000 out of more than 4000 infected. However, predictions show that by the end of the year the total infected count might become as high as 20,000 people. It is only due to the hard work done by WHO and many NGOs that is has not spread in manner that could not be contained anymore. However, efforts must continue so the situation is contained and does not become worse.

"So far the death toll of the virus is more than 2000 out of more than 4000 infected. However, predictions show that by the end of the year the total infected count might become as high as 20,000 people" - Jan Zahradil

The EU has pledged €147m from its budget to fight the outbreak of the virus and it was recently joined by the IMF and World Bank who have pledged more than €230m to the relief efforts. However, the cause needs to be taken further and the Deva-Zahradil motion calls for stronger local and international cooperation to deal with this threat swiftly and effectively. It is a duty of international community to help the local communities in the relief efforts, especially in this kind of crisis, where the potential threat is global and is danger to all of us."


Catherine Bearder (ALDE) is a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

Ebola is no distant threat. It is a global emergency that requires a global response. The world health organisation is now warning that the number of Ebola cases in west Africa could double every three weeks. Unless we massively step up our efforts to help the affected countries control this epidemic, it risks spiralling out of control

"The European commission and EU member states must boost international efforts to develop treatments and vaccines for Ebola" - Catherine Bearder

That means we urgently need to commit medical resources, mobile hospitals and funding to train health workers on the ground. Europe needs to follow the example of the US, which has just committed significant resources to assist Liberia.
 
However, as well as urgently putting in place a short-term strategy to contain this outbreak, we also need to look at how best to prevent such outbreaks in future. That is why the European commission and EU member states must boost international efforts to develop treatments and vaccines for Ebola, as well as for other deadly diseases that could cause similar epidemics in future.
 
The Jenner institute in Oxford, for example, has been developing an Ebola vaccine and has just launched clinical trials involving healthy human volunteers. If these trials are successful, the vaccine will begin to be distributed to high-risk communities in African countries affected by the disease as early as the end of this year.
 
Securing additional funding for this kind of research is vital in order for effective vaccines to be developed and stockpiles built. Moreover, it is thanks to past EU research funding that scientists at the Jenner institute have been able to build up the expertise and international networks which are now helping them develop an Ebola vaccine.

But too often, these diseases are ignored by pharmaceutical companies until it is too late because there is not enough of a commercial incentive to develop vaccines and treatments. That is why we must invest public money. Building expertise now will mean next time a deadly disease rears its ugly head, we will be better prepared and lives will be saved.


Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA) is a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

Ebola is a frightening disease, not only because of what it does to the patient but because it challenges the very human reaction as to how we comfort the sick, requiring physical barriers and isolation - it is one reason why more women have been infected.

However, it is important that people understand that Ebola does not always kill and can be contained if people know what to do and have the resources to do it. We need a coordinated, effective response, in terms of money and operational capacity. The EU can play an important role, working with the UN and WHO: €147m has already been pledged.

"Ebola is hitting countries where health systems are weak and medical facilities few at the best of times: it underscores the need to continue development support for essential public services" - Jean Lambert

We need to draw on the expertise of agencies used to dealing with major disasters and also from the military to set up field hospitals and organise transport logistics for both medical and humanitarian supplies. In future, perhaps there is a role for the European civilian peace corps? Now, we need medical experts to work with local health professionals and local people to do 'crash courses' in training staff, infection control, tracing contacts and providing accurate information to the public.

Ebola is hitting countries where health systems are weak and medical facilities few at the best of times: it underscores the need to continue development support for essential public services. We should recognise the courage of those caring for the sick and burying the dead and match that with a rapid and effective response if we are to control Ebola.


 
Ignazio Corrao (EFDD) is a co-author of parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak

The epidemic of the Ebola virus, in northern Africa, is having a tremendous impact from the point of view of health and a high cost in terms of human lives. There are more than 2400 dead and 5000 infected, but in African countries most affected by the virus, none so far have concentrated specific measures.

The western world, easily suggestible, became greatly alarmed and rightly mobilised whenever a westerner was infected, but the same emotions, the same pathos, the same apprehension did not occur in the face of hundreds of victims in Africa, which generally becomes interest only when it comes to the exploitation of its resources.

"Ebola is not only a medical emergency and case for humanitarian assistance... it is also a social and political problem and generates a disastrous economic effect" - Ignazio Corrao

I have often heard talk of "blending", what better opportunity than a disaster like the one caused by the Ebola virus to begin to actively empower those multinational companies which make huge profits from the resources of the countries most affected. Ebola is not only a medical emergency and case for humanitarian assistance where there is only death and fear of contagion, it is also a social and political problem and generates a disastrous economic effect.

The food and agriculture organisation has recently announced the huge risk to crops in west Africa. The side effects of this crisis are becoming more evident; food insecurity is worsening the already fragile economies of these countries, which are now facing a collapse of exports.

The challenges for Europe are immense. Local institutions are very weak, public health systems are ineffective, inconsistent, or in some cases non-existent. There is a lack of basic infrastructure, roads, structures necessary for an emergency. There is a distorted view about the disease on the part of local communities, for the very low level of literacy that promotes the spread of the virus. There are endless ethnic, political and religious divisions that bring smiles only to the merchants of death.

My question is this: Is Europe is ready to take on this huge challenge? And if yes, in what way?

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