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UN to Establish Health Mission to Contain Ebola

  • Margaret Besheer

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is establishing a U.N. emergency health mission to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Ban made the announcement during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that portrayed the growing crisis as the biggest peacetime challenge the U.N. has ever faced.

Ban said the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response - or UNMEER - will have five priorities.

“Stopping the outbreak, treating the infected, ensuring essential services, preserving stability and preventing further outbreaks," said Ban.

Ban said the crisis has become multi-dimensional, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions.

In a letter to the Security Council laying out the work of the mission, Mr. Ban said UNMEER will provide needed field-level support to the governments of West Africa as well as coordinate the international aid response. The mission will be run by an envoy appointed by the U.N. chief and the head of the World Health Organization. It will be based in the region but not in one of the three most affected countries and will only be active until the crisis passes.

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to green light the mission on Friday so that it can become operational as quickly as possible.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan delivered a grim assessment, saying her organization has successfully managed many big outbreaks in recent years, but Ebola is posing unprecedented challenges.

“This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced. None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale, with this degree of suffering, and with this magnitude of cascading consequences," said Chan.

Dr. Chan also cautioned that the reported figures of more than 5,500 cases and more than 2,500 deaths are “vast underestimates.”

Confirmed cases of Ebola in Western Africa

Confirmed cases of Ebola in Western Africa

Her colleague, U.N. System Coordinator for Ebola Dr. David Nabarro, warned that the number of suspected Ebola cases is doubling every three weeks.

“I estimate that to get ahead of outbreak the level of response needs to be about 20 times greater than it is at the moment," said Nabarro.

The 15-nation Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution deeming the outbreak “a threat to international peace and security,” and calling on nations to send aid, experts and field hospitals to help contain the virus. The council also urged a lifting of travel bans and border restrictions on affected countries.

The foreign ministers of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone all participated in the emergency meeting. They welcomed the new U.N. mission and pledges of help from several nations and urged a quick and sustained international response.

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