Humanitarian and medical expert returns from Ebola centres

With hundreds of millions spent on Ebola response and elements of the British, American, and French military deployed to the region, what has been achieved and is the world winning against this lethal virus?

To look into that question Professor Mukesh Kapila CBE, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at The University of Manchester, has been visiting Sierra Leone and Liberia, from where he returned on Saturday 17 January.

“There is much progress, but a lot is still to be done," he said after meeting with the President of Sierra Leone, and senior leaders of the international presence there including the UK Department for International Development, Ministry of Defence, World Health Organisation, United Nations, and Red Cross.

He was travelling with the International Medical Corps (IMC), a leading humanitarian health organisation, and one of the earliest responders to the crisis. Touring the IMC Ebola Treatment Centres deep in the countryside of Sierra Leone and Liberia, he said, “Panic, ignorance, and prejudice is what this virus survives on. To control it, we must be scientifically informed, and coolly calculating.”

He paid tribute to local communities and health workers who have borne the brunt. He applauded the doctors, nurses, and laboratory scientists from the UK National Health Service, and from hospitals in the United States and other countries working there, saying: “Their professionalism and meticulous daily work at the frontline of the epidemic is indeed helping to turn the tide.”

“Although we are now chasing Ebola instead of Ebola chasing us, there can be no faltering," says Professor Kapila.

“This epidemic is yet another wake-up call to do better to reduce poverty, improve heath and education and, above all else, bring decent governance in such countries.”

Professor Kapila was a UK Government adviser deeply engaged in Sierra Leone and Liberia more than 20 years ago during the civil wars there. Returning for the first time since then, he reflected: “What happened to all the international post-conflict aid that was poured in? Can we learn the right lessons now?

“What direction we take now – as Ebola recedes – is vitally important not just for West Africa but also for the rest of the world. As we have learnt from AIDS, SARS, Avian flu, and now Ebola, such conditions know no boundaries,” he said.

Professor Kapila is a leading humanitarian and health expert who has held leadership positions in the UN, World Health Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and UK Department for International Development.

He teaches on the postgraduate course in Humanitarian and Conflict Studies and undergraduate degree courses in Global Health. He is also part of the Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre (MAHSC) Global Health Theme, a partnership between the University and six NHS Trusts in Greater Manchester, where he advises on global health development and how health workers can support medics coping with natural and humanitarian disasters overseas.

Another University academic, Dr Amy Hughes, has been leading NHS volunteers in Sierra Leone. Read about her recent award from the Prime Minister here.