Foreign Affairs Committee hears of urgency for international response to Ebola outbreak

September 24th, 2014 - Pat Breen

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade has this afternoon heard harrowing first hand accounts of the devastating impact of the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Representatives from GOAL and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) were addressing the Committee on the unprecedented scale of the crisis, which is stretching the fragile health systems of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to their limits.

Representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health were also in attendance, outlining Ireland’s response to the outbreak so far, which includes a €600,000 allocation to tackle the crisis.

Chairman of the Committee Pat Breen says: “This afternoon, our Committee heard stark and unsettling presentations on an Ebola virus that appears to be out of control in a number of West African countries.

“We are particularly indebted to Dr Gabriel Fitzpatrick of MSF who has been working courageously on the ground in Sierra Leone in recent months. In striking language, he told the Committee that Ebola is a virus that thrives on compassion, spread by intimate contact with family members comforting those dying. Despite these challenges, it was however acknowledged that educating communities was key to curbing the spread of the virus.

“Dr Fitzgerald spoke of MSF’s strong track record with dealing with Ebola since the 1970s and, as a Committee, but we take on board his point that the unprecedented scale of this crisis required the military capability of advanced nations. The recent US pledge to send 3,000 personnel to the impacted area needs to be supplemented by other sophisticated armies to build the isolation centres to control the spread. Dr Fitzgerald was emphatic that the ‘no response would be too big at the moment’.

“As a Committee, we intend to liaise closely with Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, and Minister of State Sean Sherlock, on what further help Ireland can provide. We were told that Ireland should play a dual role, dispensing funding and funnelling experienced medical staff to the region. We note that healthcare personnel wishing to volunteer their services are best to work organisations on the ground with a proven track record in the area such as GOAL and MSF. At EU level, the Committee will press for a central medical evacuation system, to ensure medical personnel treating those on the frontline can be efficiently evacuated if they contract the virus.”