OTTAWA – The United Nations wants Canada to contribute another $25 million to $50 million to help the international efforts to eliminate Ebola in West Africa.
That’s because while great progress has been made in slowing Ebola’s outbreak, it needs to be fully eliminated in the human population to prevent it from flaring up again.
Two senior UN officials are in Ottawa this week to deliver that message to the Harper government as they try to get an additional commitment on top of the $110 million Canada has already contributed.
Some 9,900 people have died across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since last year’s outbreak.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the special representative for the UN World Health Organization’s Ebola response, said Canada has been a leading contributor, but is calling for another $25 million to $50 million.
“We’re certainly hoping they’re going to do more because if Canada doesn’t do more, then proportionally we can’t get where we need to in terms of closing the gap,” Aylward said in an interview.
Overall, he said, the UN faces a $400 million funding gap, and needs countries such as a Canada to help put a “dent” in it.
David Nabarro, a special representative to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is urging Canada to continue supporting the international effort because a large new outbreak is still possible.
He said it is essential to find every person who has the disease, treat them and prevent them from spreading it to others.
“If you miss anybody, the disease can flare up again, and you can be faced with a massive outbreak before you know it,” Nabarro said.
“We need every country that’s been involved in the response to stay with it till the end. And Canada, which is one of the major supporters of the response effort, needs to be with us till the end as well.”
Maxime Robert, a spokesman for International Development Minister Christian Paradis, said the minister had a productive discussion with Nabarro on Tuesday. Canada will be taking part in three high-level meetings this spring to discuss future financing in response to the outbreak, Robert said in a statement.
“While the number of cases has decreased significantly there are still considerable efforts that need to be made to eliminate this disease,” the statement said.
“Canada continues to monitor the situation carefully, and we will continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to offer assistance and stop the spread of this disease.”
Aylward, a native Newfoundlander, has spent most of the last six months in West Africa, dealing with the outbreak on the ground.
But in the last couple of weeks, he has been in world capitals, trying to drum up additional financial support.
Though the number of new cases is flatlining, Aylward said it would be dangerous to assume the disease is waning.
The real epidemiological “detective work” lies ahead to track down the last people with the disease and “break the chains of transmission,” he added.
The WHO announced Tuesday it was appointing an independent panel of experts to assess its handling of the crisis. The UN health agency has been heavily criticized for dropping the ball after the outbreak last year by being slow to declare an international health emergency.
Aylward said more needs to be done by not just the international health infrastructure, but by other sectors, including the military, to control major outbreaks in the future.
“There’s absolutely no question that we are going to be dealing with dangerous infectious threats going forward,” he said. “This is a trend, not an exception.”
Countries simply aren’t prepared to deal with major disease outbreaks so more needs to be done to fix that, said Aylward.
“Countries aren’t prepared to find these things and report them rapidly enough so that early action can be taken, and the world has not got the systems in place to be able to respond,” he said.
“WHO took quite a pounding on this, but this is not a WHO-specific issue.”