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Ebola's challenge cannot be ducked.

IF THE world fails to prevent a feared explosion in the number of Ebola cases, we will be guilty of criminal complacency.

US scientists fear that the epidemic is on course to reach a new level of ferocity by the middle of December.

A study suggests that in Liberia's most populated county, Montserrado, there could be 90,122 deaths by December 15 unless there is extra help. They estimated the average number of infections caused by a single person in the county was 2.49.

If a terrorist group threatened to cause such massive loss of life in a matter of weeks, the international community would invest billions in efforts to prevent such a catastrophe and the world's finest military technology and special forces would be dispatched to eliminate the threat.

We have known about the danger posed by the Ebola virus since the 1970s and the potential devastation of an outbreak has been discussed in detail.

But, as this most recent outbreak has ripped through communities and brought death, heartbreak and suffering to families, the global response has often seemed halfhearted.

When schoolchildren are taught about Ireland's potato famine they rightly ask why so little was done by the British Government to halt the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on the island. Historians may well ask similar questions when they look at our response to this crisis.

Nearly 5,000 people have died from Ebola in West Africa. Brave medical workers have struggled to respond to what has been described as the biggest health challenge since Aids.

If the scenes unfolding in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone resemble a nightmare, an even greater horror could await if action is not taken.

Yale University's Professor Alison Galvani, who led the forecasting project, has warned there is a "rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months".

She described the response to the outbreak as "initially delayed and insufficient" and calls for a five-fold increase in the speed at which new cases are detected.

There is a need for brave and decisive leadership on the world stage. The World Health Organisation has taken flak for its response and the United Nations has a lamentable track record of failing to tackle humanitarian catastrophes in Africa; the inaction of the world during the 1994 Rwandan genocide is one of the most shameful chapters of 20th century history.

Our involvement in Afghanistan came with a huge human and financial cost yet was justified on the grounds it was necessary to keep the UK's streets free of terrorism. The threat posed by Ebola is as lethal as any human foe and the carnage will escalate unless a truly effective global response is secured in the coming days.

It is not just a lack of vaccines and resources which has fuelled the tragedy so far. There has been a sorrowful lack of leadership.

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Title Annotation:Letters
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 24, 2014
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