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U.N. Team Strives To Reach Ebola Emergency Response Goals


Nearly 17,000 people have been affected with Ebola. That's according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has led the United Nations to take some unprecedented steps, including creating a mission to end a public health crisis.

TONY BANBURY: A disease that is spreading the way this is with such lethality and the ability to have such widespread impact and pose risks not just to the health of millions of people, but also to the economy's food production and education system.


That's Tony Banbury. He is in charge of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. And two months ago, his team set goals that hoped to hit this week - make sure that 70 percent of new Ebola patients are getting treatment and that 70 percent of patients who die of Ebola are buried safely.

GREENE: Banbury says the U.N. mission has met those goals in Liberia and Guinea, but he says there's still some major trouble spots in Sierra Leone.

BANBURY: It's really the capital Freetown and the areas right outside Freetown where the disease is accelerating. There aren't enough treatment beds for all of the people who are coming down with the disease. And there is a risk that it will spread more rapidly into the urban population, so we have come up with a new strategy - a new approach for just this Freetown crisis. We're sending in a surge team, and this is the kind of thing that the U.N. mission can really contribute to the response. Right now Freetown needs these extra resources. And I think we're going to see some significant improvement in the next couple of weeks. But right now we're facing a real, serious crisis.

GREENE: If you are getting close to or at 70 percent of new Ebola patients into treatment, are you getting optimistic that you really have turned a corner here and this crisis at some point in the not too distant future might be over?

BANBURY: Well, we have to keep in mind where we were 60 days ago when this U.N. mission was established by the secretary general. There were predictions done by some of the world's best experts about the number of new cases we'd be facing the first week in December. And for planning purposes, we came up with 10,000 new cases per week. We're at one-tenth of that, so we're definitely moving in the right direction. But we're not going to be out of the woods for several months, I would say, and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

GREENE: You've been spending a lot of time going from one affected area to another. I can't imagine the scenes that you have taken in - is there an image that just stays with you as you've been dealing with this crisis?

BANBURY: The most difficult moment of this job for me so far has been when I visited an Ebola treatment unit in Port Loko in Sierra Leone. And we then went and visited the graveyard next to it, and there were a number of freshly dug graves with markers and a lot of young children there - a lot of people in the prime of their life, 20 years old, 30 years old. But what was most difficult were the freshly dug graves without anyone in them yet, and I knew standing there that there were people in that Ebola treatment unit who were not going to survive. And that really brought home the sense of urgency and responsibility that we as the United Nations and the international community have to bring this crisis to an end so there are fewer graves that have to be dug for the people of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

GREENE: Mr. Banbury, thanks very much, and I hope you are indeed turning a corner. Best of luck to you.

BANBURY: Thank you very much.

GREENE: Tony Banbury is the head of United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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