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Sat, 25 May 2024

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'Work to do to stamp out this frightening Ebola virus'

2 min read

Conservative MP Stephen Phillips writes following his Urgent question on: 'the death from Ebola of a 22 year old student in Freetown, Sierra Leone' answered by International Development Secretary Justine Greening.

This week, the world learned of a new death from Ebola in Sierra Leone. The country was declared Ebola-free last November, and last week the World Health Organisation declared the West African outbreak over.  The tragic death of a 22-year-old student from the disease has therefore comes as unwelcome news, even if not wholly unexpected given that flare-ups are likely in the coming months, if not years. Indeed, some think Ebola is now endemic in the region.

The main Ebola outbreak killed over 11,300 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, with a small number of deaths in Mali and Nigeria.  But – and this is important – there have probably been far more deaths during 2014/2015 from other preventable diseases with which the fragile healthcare systems of the affected countries simply could not cope while dealing with Ebola at the same time.  The outbreak was unprecedented, as was the heartbreak and suffering caused, but it is worth remembering that maternal mortality also rose in the same period simply because hospitals did not have the time to deal with anything except Ebola.

Yesterday, the Speaker granted me an urgent question on this latest Ebola case and what it means for the region, our own security and the resilience of the healthcare sector in West Africa.  The UK’s response in 2014/2015 was a huge factor in containing the spread of the virus. DfID and the FCO, as well as the brave volunteers, health workers and service personnel who went to West Africa, deserve our very real thanks. As it always does, Britain stepped up to the plate, and independent assessments tell us that the action led by my colleague Justine Greening prevented over 50,000 deaths.

The cost to the British taxpayer was nonetheless significant. That provides one reason why the lessons learned are important, and why we need to be vigilant and continue to take action as and when Ebola again rears its head. An effective vaccine is on the horizon, as is the necessary reform of the WHO, which the International Development Committee criticised in a report published this morning. So we are not out of the woods yet. There remains work to do to stamp out this frightening virus. It is work which I, for one, intend to ensure the Government and the international community engages with.

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