DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – WaterAid has become the latest international aid agency to suspend its activities and remove international staff from Liberia because of an outbreak of the Ebola virus that has killed 729 people in the region.
Earlier this week, U.S. Peace Corps announced it was removing all 340 staff from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, whilst Samaritan's Purse has removed 60 staff form Liberia after two of its health workers became infected with the deadly virus.
“WaterAid’s programme offices in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been temporarily closed and programme work has been suspended. A response plan to protect our staff as much as possible is in place,” said Mariame Dem, Head of Region for WaterAid West Africa.
Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world and has the twelfth lowest human development index score in the world, according to the United Nations. The departure of the aid agencies has raised fears of a looming humanitarian crisis across different sectors.
The three NGOs cover sectors as broad as nutrition and food security, water and sanitation, civil engineering and university level teaching.
West Africa’s Ebola outbreak is out of control, but can be stopped, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast at a meeting in Conakry on Friday.
“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” she said, according to a WHO transcript.
Ebola is a rare, tropical disease that is spread between humans through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue. There is no cure available, but palliative treatment can help improve the recovery process by around 15 percent.
International funding is available, but experts who can deal with the virus are in short supply, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which has not been able to staff clinics with their own health workers in Liberia due to staff shortages.
The Liberian government has shut down schools, stopped government officials from going to work and quarantined entire villages with law enforcement officers, whilst Sierra Leone has called a state of emergency due to the outbreak.
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