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More troops needed warns Oxfam


Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for more funding to help tackle Ebola

Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for more funding to help tackle Ebola

Prime Minister David Cameron is calling for more funding to help tackle Ebola

More troops, funding and medical staff are urgently needed to prevent the Ebola outbreak becoming the "definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation", Oxfam has warned.

The UK-based charity said there was less than a two-month window to curb the spread of the deadly virus but there remained a "crippling shortfall" in military personnel to provide logistical support across west Africa.

More than 4,500 people have died from the disease, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Oxfam said that while Britain was leading the way in Europe's response to the epidemic, countries which have failed to commit troops - including Italy and Spain - were "in danger of costing lives".

The charity said it was "extremely rare" to call for military intervention but troops were "desperately needed" to build treatment centres, provide flights and offer engineering and logistical support.

More doctors and nurses were required to staff the treatment centres and there was a "significant shortfall" in funding to support the emergency humanitarian response, the agency warned.

The Oxford-based charity has called for European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday to follow the UK's lead in responding to the Ebola crisis after the country committed £125 million - the second highest sum after the United States.

It comes after David Cameron called for fellow EU leaders to double their contribution to the fight to tackle the virus, demanding a combined one billion euro (£800 million) pledge.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive said: "We are in the eye of a storm. We cannot allow Ebola to immobilise us in fear, but instead we must move toward a common mission to stop it from getting worse.

"Countries that have failed to commit troops, doctors and enough funding are in danger of costing lives. The speed and scale of the intervention needed is unprecedented. Only a concerted and co-ordinated global effort will stop the spread.

"Oxfam is concentrating its work in Sierra Leone and Liberia on helping to prevent the spread of Ebola, through clean water and sanitation provision and public education.

"Providing treatment is vital, however reducing the spread of infection is equally important, which is why we need the massive intervention of personnel and funding immediately."

An Oxfam spokeswoman added: "The Ebola crisis could become the definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation. The world was unprepared to deal with it. It is extremely rare for Oxfam to call for military intervention to provide logistical support in a humanitarian emergency.

"However, the military's logistical expertise and capacity to respond quickly in great numbers is vital.

"The EU can help put the world back on track in the fight against Ebola by boosting military and medical personnel, committing life-saving funds and speeding up the process so that pledges are delivered rapidly in order to prevent, protect and cure people."

The US and the UK have committed 4,000 and 750 troops respectively to help tackle Ebola, Oxfam said.

But the charity warned only some of these troops are on the ground, with most of the US contingent due by November 1.

Italy, Australia and Spain have committed no troops, despite Spain having a specialist medical expertise unit in its military, Oxfam said.

Germany has committed to military supply flights and plans a military hospital in the region, while France has some military staff in Guinea where personnel are reportedly building a hospital, it added.

A spokeswoman for Oxfam said it understands the "tremendous logistical challenges" but urged military groups to look how their mobilisation can be "both massively strengthened and sped up".

When a fund was set up by the UN Secretary General to fight Ebola in September, it was estimated almost one billion dollars (£620 million) was needed for the next six months. To date, only half of this amount has been reached, Oxfam said.

The charity has also issued an appeal for £22 million to triple its emergency response in Liberia and Sierra Leone but said it was " nowhere near this target yet".

The number of Ebola cases is doubling about every 20 days, Oxfam said. The WHO 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 World Health Organisation said it was focused on halting the epidemic "before the death toll rises to even more alarming levels" after a leaked internal document reportedly revealed the agency missed chances to stop the virus spreading.

Its experts failed to grasp that traditional methods to contain infectious diseases would not work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems, according to the report, obtained by the Associated Press.

"Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall," the WHO was reported to have said. "A perfect storm was brewing, ready to burst open in full force."

The WHO said it would not comment on an internal document but defended its response to the epidemic.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: "As soon as the WHO received notification from Guinea in late March that the first cases of Ebola virus disease had been identified, we immediately mobilised experts and sent supplies to Guinea, then to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"We will have time to analyse our response in the early phase of the outbreak once we get this outbreak stopped.

"But for the moment the WHO is focused on halting the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as soon as possible, before the death toll rises to even more alarming levels."

A leading aid agency has voiced anger over the "slow and inadequate" world response to the Ebola crisis.

Vickie Hawkins, executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said national and global health systems had "failed" and the task of tackling the epidemic remained "very large and difficult".

She said: "At MSF we are frustrated and angry that the global response to this outbreak has been so slow and inadequate.

"We have been amazed that for months the burden of the response could be carried by one single, private medical organisation, whilst pleading for more help and watching the situation get worse and worse.

"When the outbreak is under control, we must reflect on how national and global health systems can have failed quite so badly. But the priority for now must remain the urgent fight against Ebola - the job ahead is very large and difficult but we simply cannot afford to fail."

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