David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

Ebola - the challenges are enormous

The Caithness Courier, September 2014

Everybody should by now be aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning that the number of cases in the area could double every three weeks and unless we massively step up efforts to help the affected countries the outbreak risks spiralling out of control. The longer it goes on the greater the risk of the virus mutating with truly devastating consequences, however this is not just a health emergency, it is a huge threat to the economy and the security of the affected countries.

The challenges are immense. Local institutions are weak, public health systems are ineffective or non-existent. There is a lack of basic infrastructure and a distorted view about the disease on the part of local communities as well as political and religious divisions.

It was the view of MEPs in a resolution voted on during the Parliament’s September Strasbourg Plenary that the outbreak has been underrated by the international community and now constitutes a challenge to global security. As the economies of the affected countries face collapse MEPs agreed on the urgent need for funds as well as help with coordinating the relief effort and possibly the use of military and civil defence assets under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General.
While the EU has so far pledged 150 million euros to help the affected countries the European Parliament has been very critical on EU’s response so far.

My colleague and fellow UK MEP is a member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee and co-author of the Parliament's resolution on the EU response to the Ebola outbreak. She believes the EU should react promptly to emergencies around the world - not only to direct aid where it is needed most but to provide European taxpayers with the assurance that money is being spent effectively. The 150 million euros allocated by the EU will go primarily to the European Commission’s partners working on the front line, the World Health Organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Red Cross.
Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria will also benefit from the long-term development funding, which will provide humanitarian assistance, fund mobile laboratories and provide training for healthcare staff to improve hygiene and healthcare infrastructure to prevent a resurgence of the disease.

MEPs acknowledged the heroic efforts of voluntary aid workers who have shown enormous courage caring for the sick and burying the dead. However, as well as urgently putting in place a short-term strategy to contain the outbreak, we also need to look at how best to prevent such outbreaks in future. This is why the European Commission and EU member states must boost international efforts to develop treatments and vaccines for Ebola, as well as for other deadly diseases that could cause similar epidemics in future. This underlines the need for public funding. These diseases can too easily be ignored by pharmaceutical companies until it is too late because there is not enough of a commercial incentive to develop vaccines and treatments.

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