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Ebola response and legacy at University event

07 Nov 2014

The Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) UK and leading academic experts in humanitarian response and anthropology debated the ongoing West African Ebola crisis at an event at The University of Manchester last night.

Professor Mukesh Kapila
Professor Mukesh Kapila

MSF’s Vickie Hawkins spoke about her organisation’s ongoing effort to treat Ebola victims and the broader context of stigma of health workers, and the international response to the crisis, in front of a crowded audience of students and members of the public.

“Ebola is a disease which preys upon compassion,” she said, quoting the words of a Sierra Leonian colleague who had talked about the way it is transmitted between family members who try to comfort each other. “That’s just about the most devastating thing I’ve heard during this crisis.”

Alongside her on the panel of experts was Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at Manchester Medical School, Mukesh Kapila CBE, who was concerned about the legacy the outbreak will leave.  “This outbreak will be controlled,” he said. “But the effects on the politics, societies and economies will last much longer.”

Debate on the night also ranged around the wider health issues in West Africa, Vickie pointed out that there was nowhere in the country a woman could go to have a caesarean section and that all of the countries affected had fragile health systems which weren’t able to cope with the sudden outbreak of Ebola.

The event was co-organised by the University’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. Its Deputy Director, Professor Tony Redmond OBE was also on the panel on the night and has worked in some of the world’s worst disaster areas. His charity UK-Med is currently helping to train UK volunteers to head to Africa to tackle the ongoing crisis. 

His experience was that: “In disasters it is easy to feel overwhelmed, but that breeds a feeling of hopelessness.  With early and fairly simple treatments, we can bring down the mortality rate to 50 percent – a great improvement from where we are now.”

One of the final points of the debate was raised by a West African member of the audience who spoke about stigma of Africans in the West as a result of the outbreak.

Vickie added reports she’d received about the way in which MSF staff have been abused on the internet and how people refuse to touch them once they’ve returned from treating victims. 

Anthropologist Dr Ann Kelly of the University of Exeter talked about the difficulty of changing burial customs among communities which traditionally wash their dead.  She talked of the need for: “balance between bio security and the very important desire to mourn the dead in the right way.”

Throughout the event all of the panellists raised the issue of what to do after the outbreak is contained to restore and improve healthcare infrastructure and society as a whole.

In these countries, it’s going to take years just to get back to where we were before the outbreak, which was far from ideal,” said Vickie.

Notes for editors

The event was organised between the University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute and Institute for Development Policy and Management.

For media enquiries:

Jamie Brown
Media Relations Officer
The University of Manchester
Tel: 0161 2758383
Email: jamie.brown@manchester.ac.uk