I thank Deputy Smith for prompting this important debate. It is appropriate to have this discussion on Ebola today, given the rapid deterioration in the situation in West Africa over the past month and the cases now arising elsewhere in the world. This debate is also particularly timely given that the Ebola crisis was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday and will be discussed at the European Council later this week.
The latest World Health Organisation figures are alarming – well over 9,000 people infected by Ebola, and over 4,500 deaths in West Africa. Despite all the efforts of the international community, the likelihood is that the situation will deteriorate further before it improves.
Ireland has been very actively engaged at all levels in addressing the crisis – on the ground and internationally. As the Deputy is aware, I travelled to Sierra Leone at the start of the month and witnessed at first hand the devastating impact that Ebola is having there. I came away from my visit with three strong impressions: (1) that there was a key gap in leadership and coordination, which I am glad to say the UN Emergency Ebola Mission - UNMEER - is now filling; (2) that there still are important funding needs, particularly to scale up capacity for isolation and treatment; and (3) that there is an urgent need for more international health-care professionals to staff the isolation and treatment centres.
Ireland is one of only a very small number of EU Member States that has an Embassy in Freetown and I was also struck during my visit there by the very strong advocacy and coordination role being played locally by the Irish Ambassador-designate and her very small team. We are working extremely closely there with international partners and others including the US and the UK in the fight against Ebola.
The question of coordination is certainly key issue if the Ebola virus is to be tackled effectively in the West Africa region and its spread to other countries prevented. This was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg yesterday, which was attended by Minister Flanagan. The Council’s decisions yesterday represented an important further step in EU efforts to tackle the crisis, by reaffirming the need to work together in a coordinated way and to pool our strengths.
The Council recognized that a united and increased effort is needed to contain the outbreak and to provide the necessary assistance to the countries affected. In this respect, Ministers stressed the importance of reinforcing regional and international cooperation. They welcomed, in particular, the UN Secretary General’s decision to establish the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) as an important step in the global efforts to contain the outbreak.
There is a clear need for health workers and other key personnel to fight Ebola in West Africa. The Council recognized, very clearly, the need to support international health responders and agreed that the EU will provide appropriate care.
for them, including the possibility of medical evacuation if necessary. This was a very positive step and we must now work urgently to ensure it is implemented in full, and quickly.
There are no easy solutions, but if there is sufficient progress as regards measures to protect the health and welfare of health responders, it will encourage the right people with the right experience and qualifications to volunteer - in full knowledge of the precautions they need to take and of the risks.
At the Council, Minister Flanagan reiterated the urgent need to intensify support for the West Africa region. In particular, the Council called on all international donors to respond to the UN appeal for funding, including through the UN Ebola Trust Fund.
West Africa has been devastated by the Ebola crisis. When the virus has eventually been defeated, the countries most affected will need our generous and ongoing support to help them recover. Ireland is providing over €16 million in the region annually, directly and through NGOs. Our programmes in Sierra Leone and Liberia are focused on strengthening health systems and we have reprogrammed other funding directly to the Ebola response.
We will continue to work actively on the ground with our international partners, with the NGO community and with our colleagues in other government Departments here in Ireland, to ensure the best possible outcome for both the people in the affected region and for Irish citizens.