THE Ebola crisis in West Africa has reached shocking levels. Official figures say almost 5,000 people have died since the start of the year, and more than 13,000 have been infected. But the real numbers could be much higher.
For each life lost, a family and friends are left grieving and frightened that they could be next to be infected. Many people have lost their entire families.
Of course, the chance of an Ebola case appearing in Scotland is very low. This does not mean we are complacent – if the worst happens, Scotland is very well prepared to deal with a case of Ebola, with experienced and well-resourced medical staff and three specialised regional infectious disease units with expert round-the-clock consultant cover as well as many other units across the country.
But sadly, the health care systems in the countries affected do not enjoy such good resources. Medics, hospitals and clinics are struggling to cope.
There is a severe lack of trained healthcare professionals and a dangerous lack of knowledge in communities, meaning people don’t know how to stop the disease spreading.
The number of new cases is doubling about every 20 days, and some predict there could be as many as 1.4 million cases by January if urgent action isn’t taken.
There is an imminent need to prevent the spread of disease to stop new infections, and to provide practical support for those affected.
The outbreak is not only a health crisis. It is also becoming a humanitarian crisis with global dimensions. It has dealt a devastating blow to the economies of the countries affected, and people are now struggling to earn a living and provide food for their families as trading and farming become impossible. Borders have been closed, and planting and harvesting of crops have been disrupted.
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If the Ebola outbreak continues to grow, experts warn West Africa could experience a famine by January. Schools in affected areas have been closed for months and children are missing out on vital education.
Last week, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal to help the people and countries affected.
Scots have already been incredibly generous and quick to respond, raising more than £1.5 million since the DEC Ebola Crisis Appeal was launched. But I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet donated to dig deep. Doing so will help prevent the disease spreading and save lives.
Some funds will go to the highly specialised work of treating people with Ebola. But more will go to stopping the disease spreading further and helping those affected by the crisis.
It’s no good telling people to wash their hands regularly if they have no access to water, and DEC members are helping address this – as well as distributing protective gear and medical supplies, and helping people in affected areas understand how to avoid the spread of the disease. Some are helping grieving relatives by organising safe but dignified burials for the dead.
The Scottish Government has already donated £500,000 to the World Health Organisation, International Rescue Committee and Unicef, and a further £300,000 worth of medical supplies to the six government-funded, charity-run clinics in Sierra Leone. Scots are well known around the globe for being a caring and generous nation. The £1.5 million donated so far shows that Scots are standing up and being counted in the fight against Ebola. But we must do more.
So I urge the people of Scotland to give online at www.dec.org.uk or call 0370 60 60 900 and donate whatever you can afford.
• £25 can provide cleaning kits, including bleach, soap and a bucket, for three families at risk from Ebola.
• £50 can provide basic protective clothing such as gloves, masks, boots and gowns for three volunteers supporting people under quarantine.
• £100 can provide training for a community on how to keep themselves safe and help stop the spread of Ebola.
Every single donation, no matter how large or small, can help. «
• Humza Yousaf MSP is International Development Minister
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