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UN health agency to hold special weekend session on Ebola; warns against donor fatigue

23 January 2015 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that it will hold a special meeting on Ebola on Sunday, as one of its top officials noted that the outbreak is "still an incredibly dangerous situation" and warned against "a false sense of security" generated by the decline in new cases.

"There tends to be a false sense of security that this is somehow a controllable disease. There is no such thing as Ebola control, it has got to [be driven] to zero,' Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General in charge of the Ebola operational response, told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

'It's still an incredibly dangerous situation,' he added.

Dr. Aylward, who has just returned from West Africa, said he was concerned about whether UN Member States will maintain their incredible generosity, as progress in battling the disease would depend on "funding and people" before the rainy season hits the region.

Yet, the biggest risk to get to zero is not complacency and not fatigue among the countries battling to eradicate the disease, according to Dr. Alyward, but the funding gap. "The issue is financial resources and people."

Earlier this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the United Nations launched an appeal for the $1 billion needed for the first six months of 2015 in order to sustain the momentum to stamp out Ebola in the three worst-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where 21,797 people have been affected with 8,675 deaths.

In Geneva today, WHO announced that its Executive Board would hold a special session on Ebola on Sunday, 25 January.

The morning session will include opening remarks by WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan and an intervention by David Nabarro, UN Special Envoy on Ebola, as well as an Ebola survivor from Sierra Leone, according to WHO spokesperson, Fadéla Chaib.

The afternoon session is expected to focus on the response of the international community and WHO to the outbreak, and on how to improve that response for future situations, Ms. Chaib said. The discussions may continue into the late evening Sunday, and a set of recommendations and conclusions would be presented, she said.

In other news, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) reported from the field today that community resistance towards safe burials and general suspicion of burial teams continues in many parts of the Liberia, and that UNMEER and partners are engaging more with local communities to enhance awareness.

Also in Liberia, the World Food Programme (WFP), in coordination with the Government of Liberia, UNMEER and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), will be supporting re-opening of schools starting in February, the UN response team reported.

And WHO also reported that Ebola virus control teams need a mix of expertise, including epidemiologists, logistics specialists, laboratory workers, hygiene experts and various other specialized professions.

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