NEW YORK – As the unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa, dubbed “World War E,” rages out of control, the United Nations is admitting the approximately 6,000 peacekeepers still in Liberia are not trained in health-care operations.
The acknowledgement comes after a top German virologist told reporters Friday he does not expect the Ebola virus to burn out in Liberia or Sierra Leone until it infects half the population of the two countries and kills 5 million people.
Confirmed cases of Ebola have increased 57 percent in the past three weeks, with the death toll currently at 1,296 and no end in sight, according to updated World Health Organization statistics.
Jones Schmidt-Chanasit, the director of viral diagnostics at the Bernhard Nocht Institute of Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, told the international press Friday he and his colleagues have lost all hope of halting the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
“We lost the possibility of controlling this Ebola outbreak in those two countries back in May or June,” Schmidt-Chanasit said.
The Ebola outbreak in Liberia has not been slowed by the more than 8,000 U.N. personnel currently in Liberia, including 6,000 uniformed peacekeepers. According to U.N. records, there are 4,460 troops, 126 military observers and 1,434 police forces, with an approved budget from July 2014 through June 2015 of $427.3 million.
Last week, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hervé Ladsous addressed media in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, vowing the U.N. will continue to stand by Liberia as it battles an “unprecedented” Ebola outbreak. He said the peacekeepers will be “standing by Liberia through good and bad times.”
Some 95 percent of the expatriate doctors left when the Ebola outbreak began in March, leaving 50 physicians to treat the country’s 4.3 million population.
Ladsous, according to the U.N. News Center, emphasized that a peacekeeping mission is not a public health mission, stressing that handling the Ebola outbreak is “not something we are trained for.”
“It is true that we, the international community, have invested a lot over the years to bring back peace and security to Liberia, and, more generally, to West Africa. And it is even more true that we do not want to jeopardize that patient work,” stated Ladsous.
He added that while the UNMIL, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, is not a public health operator, the mission and the wider U.N. system would be on hand to ensure Liberia overcome the crisis.
“You have seen the very public and proactive position taken by the secretary-general … who has given orders to the entire U.N. system to mobilize in comprehensive, strategic [and] concrete ways to support efforts to stem the epidemic,” he said.
The civil war that raged from 1989 to 2003 left Liberia with 250,000 dead, the country in economic ruin and overrun with weapons, the capital city without electricity or running water, and the presence of some 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers, one of the most expensive peacekeeping efforts in U.N. history.
The fourth poorest nation in the world, Liberia suffers unemployment estimated to be as high as 85 percent, with 90 percent of the population earning less than $410 a year.
The population of Monrovia doubled to an estimated 1.5 million as a result of the civil war, with most of the residents crowded into shantytown slums lacking sanitation, such as West Point, Buzzi Quarter, Clara Town and Sawmill. About two-thirds of the population lacks access to clean toilets, with cholera rampant and the two leading child killers listed as malaria and diarrhea.