Written by Lara Palmisano

UNHCR Convoy  at the Ivorian and Liberian border © L.Palmisano

UNHCR Convoy at the Ivorian and Liberian border © L.Palmisano

It still seems that no effective measures exist to counteract the proliferation of Ebola in West Africa. One of the more controversial action, closing borders with Ebola-hit countries, is one of the measures drawing the most attention.

A significant consequence of “border closing” is the effect on the refugee populations in the region. It also impacts their ability to return home.

One example is Cote d’Ivoire,  where some 300,000 refugees fled fighting during the post-election crisis. The borders were officially closed between Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia on July 28th from the Liberian side. Then, on August 22nd, the border was closed from the Ivorian side for both Liberia and Guinea. This action impacted UNHCR convoys helping with volunteer travel. Volunteers remain in an undetermined holding pattern until definitive solutions are found to eradicate the disease.

“The emergency situation is refraining one of the UNHCR durable solutions, which is the voluntary return. So the Ivorian refugees are remaining in exile despite the fact that there is a will to repatriate them,” explains Ouis M. Mouffok, UNHCR Project Control Officer in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Moreover, Ivoirian refugees are mostly in the east border of Liberia, where the disease is seriously present. The refugees are a vulnerable population, living in temporary camps, and may be highly exposed to the disease.

Michael Kinzer of the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who led a recent surveillance and advisory Ebola mission to Guinea, said “closing the borders is like closing your eyes.” “It makes more sense for countries to spend their money and energy on preparing their health systems to recognize an Ebola case and respond correctly…so that the virus does not spread.”

Ebola is not just a health crisis – it has grave humanitarian, economic, and social consequences.

The international community has the responsibility to help and enhance the affected countries and switch from prevention to an action plan in order to organize meaningful assistance in the region. The plan needs to include medical structures and a massive information campaign targeted toward the affected population, often scared and not correctly informed about the disease and the response.

The current outbreak was first identified in Guinea in December 2013. Since that date, the disease has killed more than 2,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.The United Nations fears 20,000 people could be infected by the end of the 2014.

This outbreak is the largest ever recorded since the Ebola virus outbreak in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Committee on the International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced August 7, 2014, that the epidemic is a public health emergency of international concern.

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