UN, Sierra Leone launch surge response to tackle Ebola transmission

17 Dec 2014

UN, Sierra Leone launch surge response to tackle Ebola transmission

Freetown, 17 December 2014 – Today, the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) joined forces with the Government of Sierra Leone and other partners to launch Operation Western Area Surge (WAS). Operation WAS will focus on crucial Ebola response activities such as first and foremost, identifying and isolating potential patients, and increasing safe burials, ambulance dispatching, quarantine protocols, and social mobilization.

Ebola response partners are racing to reverse a spike in the rate of transmission of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) cases in the Western Area of Sierra Leone, the new the epicenter of the outbreak. “We need to do case management, case isolation, have the beds, contact identification, safe burials, social mobilization,” says Anthony Banbury, head of UNMEER. “That’s where all actors are focusing their energy.”

Ahead of the launch of Operation WAS, UNMEER flew to Freetown two new laboratories from Nigeria and Liberia, as well as additional data specialists to help speed up the reporting of laboratory results. New medical and ICT equipment have also been airlifted by UNMEER, including 15,000 blood vials and two new autoclaves. Transport and the holding of patients have also been given a boost with the arrival of eight ambulances and 76 motorcycles, and more to come.

Sierra Leone is now the worst-affected country in West Africa. Together, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have registered over 18,400 cases of Ebola, including 6,841 deaths. Last week, Banbury visited Sierra Leone to see how preparation for the surge was going and to assess what more UNMEER could do.

“We’re flying in labs to support the surge, flying in ambulances, flying the President of Sierra Leone around to do social mobilization,” says Banbury. “The top priority definitely has to be getting to zero cases. That has to be everyone’s priority. Everything else depends on that.”

Getting to that goal, admits Banbury, is not going to be easy.

“We need a district by district strategy. Every district is in a different situation,” he says. “We have to tailor our interventions to the particular circumstances in each of the 62 districts across the three countries.”

Operation WAS is part of those tailored interventions. In partnership with WFP, UNDP, UNICEF, CDC and others, the surge will not only bring in urgently needed supplies and equipment, but will also see a ramp up in community mobilization, as well as surveillance and contact tracing.

“We are dispatching burial teams, we are dispatching ambulances to pick up sick patients, and we are ensuring that the quarantine activities that need to go into effect when someone has been confirmed EVD take effect,” says Victoria Parkinson, Emergency Response Advisor with the Africa Government Initiative (AGI). “So, with the surge starting, what that means is that we are adding additional social mobilizers into communities.”

With new resources and strengthened efforts to stop the outbreak in Sierra Leone, Banbury says all Ebola response partners must now work together to make the surge effective.

“The greatest difficulty is going to be execution, especially because it requires a lot of resources, especially human resources,” says Banbury. “We need a lot of people on the ground, but we came up with the plan and we know what we need to do.”