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16th Nov 2019

EU anti-Ebola funds not reaching aid workers, Red Cross says

  • The European commission has handed out €65.8 million, from a total of €373 million pledged, to fight Ebola. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Ebola is flaring up as aid agencies struggle to keep staff on the ground, while EU pledges and donations have yet to appear.

The stark message was delivered to reporters in Brussels on Monday (17 November) by the head of operations for the International Federation of the Red Cross, Birte Hald.

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“It is a massive disease, the spread of Ebola is out of control, and we need massive resources in order to combat this,” she said.

Hald, who is based in Guinea’s capital Conakry, said active outbreaks are still taking place in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and is now gaining pace in Mali.

“Transmission is not over and it is absolutely premature to start being optimistic,” she noted.

The European Commission on Monday announced an additional €29 million in aid, bringing its total anti-Ebola funds to €373 million.

Of that sum, the commission has handed out €65.8 million.

With EU member states forking out millions more, the total EU pledge is now over €1 billion on top of equipment and supplies.

But the Red Cross says most of it has yet to materialise on the ground.

“When you are talking about €1 billion from the EU, I think this is still a little bit abstract,” Hald said.

She noted that the Red Cross itself has seen only €2 million of the EU’s €1 billion so far, but is expecting another €5 million after applying for a grant from the European Commission.

The commission, for its part, has so far dispersed around €19 million for humanitarian purposes and another €46.8 million to, for instance, prop up weak health care systems in the affected countries.

An EU source could not cite how much of the money from member states has been allocated, noting that the reporting system “is not completely reliable”.

Lack of staff

Another senior Red Cross official, Antoine Petibon, said the problem is being compounded by the fact some 60 percent of all its qualified volunteers have resigned.

Workers from other charities, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, are also being put under pressure by family and friends not to go.

One Red Cross worker from Chad returned home from Guinea for a two-week break but was placed in quarantine by airport authorities in N'Djamena and was unable to see his family.

Similar other stories have complicated a relief effort that is being undermined in part by stigmatisation and discrimination, said Red Cross’s director of Africa zone, Alasan Senghore.

“If they [health workers] are discriminated against, we won’t see the end of Ebola,” he noted.

Last week, Morocco announced it would no longer host the Africa 2015 Cup of Nations football tournament because of the disease.

The virus has already killed over 5,000 people.

Another 14,000 have been affected, with a mortality rate hovering between 60 to 90 percent depending on treatment conditions and quality of healthcare.

Cases going up

“Case numbers have been going up in Sierra Leone, some regions unfortunately dramatically,” Christos Stylianides, EU co-ordinator on Ebola, also told MEPs in the development committee on Monday.

Stylianides said the case increase is linked to the lack of medical infrastructure in the country.

Stylianides, who had returned from a four-day tour of the three worst affected countries, said more medical personnel are urgently needed.

"This is clearly an area where, we collectively, can make a real difference," he said.

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