West Africa is currently facing the largest and most complex Ebola epidemic on record. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the most affected countries. The disease has already claimed nearly 5,000 lives and has seen over 13,000 cases.
The European Union has been monitoring its spread and taken collective action at home and abroad. It has mobilised political, financial and scientific resources to help contain, control, treat and ultimately defeat Ebola. On 24 October 2014 the European Council appointed Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, as EU Ebola Coordinator. Between 12 and 16 November, he travelled to the three most affected countries together with the EU Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis.
The EU's total financial contribution to fight the epidemic is over €1 billion. This includes funding from the Member States and the European Commission.
The Commission has given €373 million to fight the disease - covering emergency measures and longer-term support.
These funds contribute to epidemic surveillance, diagnostics, treatment and medical supplies; they enable deployment of doctors and nurses and training of health workers; they raise awareness about the disease among the population and promote safe burials.
In addition to existing EU and bilateral development partnerships, the Commission is also providing some €138 million in development and early recovery assistance. The funds are thus being delivered now and into 2015. The objectives are to reinforce the capacity of governments to deliver vital public services, notably health care, and maintain macro-economic stability. These funds are also used to strengthen food security and improve water and sanitation. Mobile laboratories for the detection of the virus and training health workers is also funded through the development assistance. Furthermore, the EU supports the African Union's medical mission in West Africa.
To reduce the risk of further spread of Ebola, EU funding has also been allocated to countries neighboring the affected region where we support early detection and awareness building.
Emergency supplies and expertise
The EU is also sending emergency supplies and experts. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism facilitates the coordinated delivery of material support from the Member States through the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC).
EU Member States have provided mobile laboratories, treatment centers, ambulances and field hospitals. The EU has organized logistical support including multiple airlifting operations and supports the deployment of navy ships to transport emergency supplies provided by the Member States, such as food aid, medical kits, clean blankets and chlorine for sanitation. EU humanitarian experts, including specialists in hazardous diseases, have been deployed to the three most affected countries.
International health workers operating directly on the ground are the backbone of the response to the Ebola epidemic. More health workers are needed. To support their mobilization, a European medical evacuation system has been established to ensure they would get appropriate treatment and would be transported to hospitals in Europe in case of an infection. Member States are making capacity available for this. The medevac system ensures evacuation within 48 hours to an equipped hospital in Europe for international health workers and other EU nationals diagnosed with the virus. Evacuation requests are received through the ERCC and assessed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine available against Ebola. Standard treatment is limited to supportive therapy. With over €160 million in EU funds and a similar commitment from the pharmaceutical industry, the Commission is funding an accelerated multisectoral research programme under Horizon 2020 to address Ebola-related challenges such as vaccines development, clinical trials, storage and transport, as well as diagnostics and treatments to tackle both the current and future Ebola outbreaks. The first projects are expected to begin in early 2015; they will assess the safety of several potential vaccines and the level of protection they offer against the disease.
The risk of Ebola to the general public in the EU is very low. Transmission of the virus, requires direct contact with a symptomatic patient’s body fluids. Furthermore, the EU has very high standards of healthcare infrastructures and preventive care. Nevertheless, there is a small possibility of individuals arriving in the EU with potential Ebola virus infection.
Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease, the Commission and the Member States have also been working on preparedness and coordination of risk management in close cooperation with of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the WHO.
The Health Security Committee (HSC), bringing together EU Member States and the Commission, meets regularly to coordinate Ebola prevention and readiness. It surveys Member States' preparedness and has established a list of available Ebola assets which could be shared, including high security laboratories, hospital capacity and medical evacuation equipment. The EU's Early Warning and Response System for medical emergencies has been activated. HSC is also providing information for travellers in all EU languages and establishing procedures for airports and health authorities on handling possible Ebola cases.
In addition, the Commission has launched the 'Ebola Communication Platform for Clinicians' - an online platform enabling the rapid exchange of information on the treatment and prevention of the Ebola disease. The platform brings together EU hospitals and physicians recognised as reference centres for the treatment of Ebola patients. This network further boosts the level of preparedness and response against Ebola by linking together expertise on treatment of Ebola patients between health care specialists.
The WHO has recommended exit screening of travellers leaving the affected countries in order to reduce the risk of spread of Ebola. Since the disease's incubation period is up to 21 days, it is widely recognised that such screening can be only partially effective.
The Commission in partnership with the WHO has proposed to carry out an audit of the exit screening measures in the three most affected countries. Its goal is to assess current exit screening practices and identify any gaps. The audit report is due at the beginning of December.
Advocacy and diplomatic outreach
From the outset of the crisis, the EU has been supporting and calling for a strong international response coordinated by the United Nations. The EU is in constant contact with the governments of the region through its Delegations as well as with regional organizations such as the African Union and ECOWAS.
The appointment by the European Council of an EU Ebola Coordinator, Commissioner Christos Stylianides, aims to ensure that EU institutions and Member States act in coordination with each other and with international partners. To this end, an EU Ebola Task Force has been set up, bringing together Member States, Commission services, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and representatives of the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs. The Task Force meets daily in the Commission'sERCC, which serves as a platform for coordination of the European response.
For more information:
Video to press conference with Commissioners Stylianides and Andriukaitis:
EU boosts anti-Ebola aid after Commissioners' mission to worst-hit countries:
Ebola coordination site:
Factsheet on EU response to Ebola:
The European Commission's humanitarian aid and civil protection:
European Commission’s Public health website: