By Remy Servis

UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) is the first-ever UN emergency health mission. It was assembled in mid-September 2014 in response to the growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The mission’s main objectives were to help treat those already infected (by providing medical, financial, and administrative support to countries in need), and to help prevent further outbreaks from occurring. By setting (and subsequently meeting) monthly goals for percentage of the outbreak identified, treated, and controlled, UNMEER was able to greatly contribute to the slowing of the outbreak that was seen by the start of 2015.

On July 14th, the GBI Summer School Program participants took a field trip to the United Nations to meet with Colonel Tim House, the Special Assistant to the Military Adviser for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and Lliam Findlay, a Political Affairs Officer working with the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Envoy on Ebola. Colonel Tim House presented the United Nation’s system and its mission as well as details about the DPKO. Lliam Findlay discussed his involvement with UNMEER, the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response. Mr. Findlay explained that he participated directly in on-the-ground support by working at a headquarters in Ghana, where he coordinated communication between the UN and local authorities.

Thinking carefully about the Ebola outbreak and the United States’ assistance and intervention in West Africa calls to the surface many potential ethical issues and debates, some of which the summer school students had already considered and discussed in previous lectures. For example, how much of a role did social justice play in the United States’ decision to get involved? On humanitarian grounds, it seemed as if we as a country were morally obligated to offer support. Mr. Findlay addressed this concern in the context of criticism that the UNMEER had received suggesting that the UN response came too late in the Ebola outbreak timeline. Additionally, questions of informed consent must be raised. For obvious reasons, obtaining full informed consent from patients with Ebola proved to be a challenge, as these individuals are often desperate for any assistance that will increase their chance of surviving. A wider question we could ask is, ‘Is attaining informed consent truly possible—or even appropriate—during a public health emergency?’.

These ethical issues are clearly of very high importance, and are certainly factors that were taken into consideration when the UNMEER first began its preparatory work back in 2014. However, the complete eradication of Ebola and a permanent stop to the outbreak seems to be an even more pressing issue at hand. While Liberia declared that they were Ebola-free in May of this year, Guinea and Sierra Leona are still struggling with reemerging cases. Just this week, 30 new cases were reported in the capitals of these two countries, concerning health officials that improper isolation and treatment are still problems that need to be addressed. Ebola is still lingering—and while early vaccination research is promising, the efforts to completely eliminate this disease must not be abandoned or reduced in these final, crucial months.

Kent Brantly, an American doctor diagnosed with and cured of Ebola during the first outbreak, talks about the resurgence of the disease here.

To read more about UNMEER, click here.

To read the CIDRAP Ebola article, click here.