European Union health ministers will on Thursday (16 October) discuss co-ordinating efforts to prevent the further spread of the deadly Ebola virus in member states. The meeting will specifically focus on whether co-ordinated action is needed to check passengers at EU airports and railway stations travelling from affected regions in West Africa.
On Tuesday (14 October) the UK began screenings for Ebola at Heathrow airport, the country’s largest entry point, and these are to be extended to Gatwick airport and the Eurostar train terminal. Exit screenings for travellers leaving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are already in place.
Charles Goerens, a Luxembourg liberal MEP, in charge of producing a report on the Ebola crisis for the development committee of the European Parliament, said that strengthening border controls was an “appropriate response”. But more effort was needed, he added. “The evolution of Ebola in Africa is revealing day after day a lack of leadership and inconsistency in disease management and, in addition to this, the inability of developed countries to offer solutions to developing countries,” Goerens said.
Fears about an outbreak in Europe rose after the first EU patient, a Spanish nurse who volunteered to help two Spanish missionaries who returned from West Africa, was diagnosed with Ebola in a hospital in Madrid on 6 October. The hospital’s slow response and the apparent lack of safety procedures were heavily criticised. On Tuesday a UN healthcare worker from Sudan died in hospital in Leipzig, Germany, after returning from working in Liberia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the outbreak is “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times”, although it had reported in September that the situation in Senegal and Nigeria was under control. It estimates that by early November, six months after the outbreak was first reported, the number of people infected may exceed 20,000. Since March, more than 4,000 sufferers have died, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.
The European Commission has been scaling up its financial and humanitarian aid to the countries affected. So far, €180 million has been made available for first aid assistance and reinforcing local and regional healthcare authorities.