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Ebola: why urgent and sustained action is needed to avoid catastrophe

As the Ebola epidemic continues, a comprehensive and sustained international response is vital to stop the further spread of the virus – and to care for those already affected.

News

10 Oct 2014 | UK

The Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa continues to devastate the lives of thousands of people across the region.

Our small team in Liberia and Sierra Leone has witnessed first-hand the uncertainty, fear and tragedy this crisis has brought. After years of devastating civil wars, basic services remain fragile in both countries, with a lack of clean water, poor hygiene practices and the absence of sanitation all thought to have contributed to Ebola’s devastating impact on affected communities.

In Sierra Leone, nearly 40% of the population do not have access to clean water, leaving families and communities in a desperate struggle to keep themselves safe.

In addition, nearly half of all health facilities in low-income countries lack a reliable and safe water supply. As a result, maintaining the level of hygiene needed to prevent the further spread of the virus - which is transmitted through contact with body fluids - is extremely difficult for health workers. 

This lack of basic services is putting the lives of all those caring for Ebola patients at risk.

Mamie demonstrates how to wash your hands in Sierra Leone.
Mamie, a hygiene promoter, demonstrates how to wash your hands in Sierra Leone.
Credit: WaterAid/Anna Kari

With 2.5 million people living without clean water and sanitation, the crisis highlights the imperative for the global community to secure universal access to these basic services, in the face of a very real public health risk. 

With the right political will and prioritisation, this could be achieved within a generation. However, right now, vast areas of West Africa still lack the basics they need to protect their communities against Ebola, including hygienic health facilities and access to clean water and safe sanitation.

Without urgent and sustained action across the developing world to bring these services to hospitals, homes and schools, further public health catastrophes are inevitable. Already, alongside the terrifying Ebola outbreak, Ghana is dealing with the worst cholera outbreak for 30 years – a disease that is spread through dirty water and poor sanitation. 

So while the world deals with the horrific consequences of the current Ebola epidemic, WaterAid will re-double our efforts to secure more - and sustained - investment in water, sanitation and hygiene, the very basics of human development, dignity and health.

Find out more about our work in Liberia and Sierra Leone >