The international community has made “almost zero” response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, with western leaders more interested in protecting their own countries than helping contain the crisis that has now claimed more than 1,200 lives, a senior international aid worker said on Tuesday.
Brice de la Vigne, the operations director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said politicians in industrialised countries urgently needed to take action, or risk the outbreak spreading much further. “Globally, the response of the international community is almost zero,” he told the Guardian. “Leaders in the west are talking about their own safety and doing things like closing airlines – and not helping anyone else.”
His comments came as the World Health Organisation announced that the death toll in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has now exceeded 1,200. The haemorrhagic disease, which kills up to 90% of those infected, is ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and also has a toehold in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.
De la Vigne, who has just returned from a tour of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, said the scale of the outbreak was comparable to a catastrophe such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake, which killed 300,000 people.
"The solution is not that complicated but we need to have political will to do so. Time is running against us. But you need very senior people with high profiles, the kind of people who can co-ordinate a response to a million people affected by an earthquake," he said.
His words were echoed by Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick, who is working at the MSF field hospital in Kailahun, the epicentre of the crisis in Sierra Leone.
"If this Ebola outbreak happened in a western community, in London, you’d get a few cases and that would be it," he said. "The main objective here is not to dramatically increase the person’s chance of survival, it’s to contain the spread"At least 810 cases of Ebola have…