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Liberian campaigners say the international response to the Ebola outbreak has been desperately slow, and today launched an appeal for massively ramped-up, on-the-ground help to tackle the disease that is sweeping their nation with unprecedented speed.

“Our hospitals are over-run and under-staffed, fear and panic is sparking violence. Our borders are shut and ships are avoiding our ports. We are running out of food, supplies, everything,” said Oscar Bloh, who is coordinating the response of Liberian civil society groups, the CSO Taskforce on Ebola. “This is the worst ever outbreak of one of the world’s deadliest diseases and we cannot tackle this alone. We urgently need far more help to halt the Ebola epidemic before it spreads further.”

After months of inaction, in recent days a number of donor pledges have finally been made, but Liberian groups fear that it will take too long for government promises to translate to hands-on help. The CSO Taskforce and international groups have issued a public statement calling on wealthy countries and international organisations like the UN to accelerate the deployment of much-needed resources aimed at stemming what is both an international health crisis and a threat to regional peace and security.

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More than 870 people are believed to have died from the current epidemic in Liberia, with hundreds more deaths in nearby Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.  Many hospital workers are striking or have abandoned their clinics, relief workers are ill-equipped to contain the virus, and communities lack basic preventative measures like clean water and soap.

Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, is on the frontline of Liberia’s battle with Ebola. But limits on resources mean that its operations are stretched, with only five case management centres and around 400 beds across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Liberia’s Red Cross says that Monrovia’s crematorium is turning away infectious dead bodies for lack of space.  Outside the capital hundreds of potentially infected people have little choice but to stay at home as they live out of reach of healthcare, posing a threat to their families. Very simple measures could help contain the spread of the disease in remote areas – often rural communities don’t know what Ebola is or how it travels, and many lack access to clean water or disinfectants.

Liberian NGOs are calling for significant medical, financial and logistical support in the form of:

  • On-the-ground expert help, including specialists in infectious diseases and disaster relief.
  • Quarantine facilities, protective clothing and equipment, ambulances and helicopters to transport suspected victims and bodies.
  • Logistical and financial support to ensure that food, clean water and power reaches people who need it, including remote and quarantined communities.
  • The UN Mission in Liberia to assist national security forces to help suppress riots and maintain peace in an orderly, non-violent manner.
  • Support scaling up community education and sanitisation efforts that could help limit the spread of the virus.
  • Re-instating flights in and out of Ebola-affected countries to ensure that supplies are delivered without delays.

“This disease has us under siege,” said Oscar Bloh. “It feeds on inaction, and it is winning. The donor community has a poor track record when it comes to turning pledges into swift action. We may now have political will on our side, but we can’t fight Ebola without the right weapons, the right armour and an army of experts to defeat it.”

Image: UNICEF Guinea