It is vital that the international aid response - from governments, major international institutions and aid agencies - recognises the urgency and gravity of the Ebola epidemic. Getting this right is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of people across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

ActionAid staff loading up rice and bleach for Ebola-hit rural communities in Liberia.
ActionAid staff loading up rice and bleach for Ebola-hit rural communities in Liberia.

Ebola is a global emergency and as the President of the World Bank says, every developed country should send trained medical staff to West Africa in addition to giving wider assistance.

That's why it is good to see the three major donors to West Africa dividing their aid mainly along country lines, the UK to Sierra Leone, the US to Liberia and France to Guinea.

Such coordination is necessary as is news that army medics are making their way to West Africa from all three countries. Their job will be to set up field hospitals and support beleaguered health services.

But more is needed to defeat the epidemic. ActionAid is advocating an urgent holistic approach.

Recognise Ebola symptoms, control the Ebola outbreak

In the short term, international aid must support three broad areas:

  • Running prevention campaigns because without that, the epidemic will not be stopped – people need to recognise the symptoms of Ebola and know how to respond.
  • Medical intervention to care for the sick and dying and to control the contagion – and that includes help with high quality screening and contact tracing as well as treatment.
  • Providing affected families with food aid and other relief items because of the appalling social and economic impact of the disease.

Yet ultimately, the world will also need to help cash strapped nations rebuild their economies as the epidemic is already reversing years of economic gains.

Ebola is driven by the motor of poverty

People across Liberia and Sierra Leone are losing friends and family, and as one person told us, life has gone back to how it was during the war. 

Driven by the motor of poverty, Ebola has brutally exposed the deficiencies of West Africa’s health and governmental systems.

A disease that was first identified five months ago, has since spiralled out of control and now threatens the lives of over a million people shames the world.

Currently every person who gets Ebola is infecting up to another two people and the US Centres for Disease Control estimates that 1.4 million people could be infected by January if urgent action isn’t taken.

While resources are needed now to tackle the crisis, that in itself is not enough.

After the crisis is over, there will be a need to support rebuilding of economies and to build – not rebuild – health services that can both protect the right to life and provide decent health care for all.

How ActionAid is tackling the Ebola virus

So grave is the situation that our offices across the region are on emergency alert  as we continue to ramp up our response.

From the very first, we’ve educated people about how to stop the virus spreading, helping to keep them safe. This remains a vital strand of our work and the epidemic will not be stopped without it.

But we're doing more. We have been giving food aid to families quarantined for more than three weeks, vital equipment to local health workers including rubber gloves, protective overalls and bleach, and education materials to children – schools have now been closed for months and are not set to open any time soon.

In Liberia we’re also giving discharged Ebola patients, survivor kits – a change of clothes, soap and toothpaste – as these are people who lost everything when their belongings were incinerated as a preventative measure.

Defeating Ebola demands urgency, rigour and imagination if the world is to overcome this deadly epidemic.