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Oxfam is warning that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will not be contained unless more is done to prevent new infections.
The UN is planning to tackle the illness by treating people already infected with the disease, tracing their contacts and ensuring safe burials, which is important. But Oxfam believes that more work needs to be done on stopping people getting infected in the first place.
The aid agency is appealing for more funds to help prevent the spread of Ebola which is ravaging the region. Infection rates continue to grow with the number of cases doubling about every 20 days. The World Health Organisation has put the death rate from this outbreak at 70% and has warned that there could be 10,000 new cases a week in West Africa by December.
The number of Ebola cases, and suspected Ebola cases, has now exceeded 8,000 and the outbreak has claimed 4,500 lives, almost all of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
While tackling the disease requires new, fully-equipped treatment and isolation centres as well as medical professionals to treat Ebola cases, prevention of new infections must also be a priority.
People are contracting the disease because of their lack of access to basic washing facilities or because of their lack of knowledge about how the disease is spread.
Jane Cocking, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director said: “We must break the chain of infection by equipping people with the means to protect themselves from contracting this deadly disease in the first place.
“We have the expertise to help contain the disease but funds are desperately needed to make this happen.”
Oxfam is planning to spend £22 million to triple its programmes in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and plans to concentrate on reducing transmission rates. Although funding changes on a daily basis, it is nowhere near this target yet.
So far Oxfam has significantly stepped up its water and sanitation supply to Ebola treatment centres and community care centres, and its supply of hygiene materials, like soap and bleach, in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is supplying personal protective clothing for front line community health workers and burial teams, and training community health workers. The aid agency is also helping in the construction of treatment centres.
Oxfam is boosting its mass public information campaign over the radio, billboards and text messages about how people can best protect themselves from catching the disease.
The aid agency is also working on prevention in Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal, where there have been no widespread outbreaks of the disease.
However, in order for Oxfam to scale up its Ebola response, further funding is needed.
Enough Oxfam staff members with the expertise and knowledge to work on Ebola response have stepped forward to volunteer to travel to the region to work on programmes. The major stumbling block to its deployment is a lack of funds.