HAVANA._ “The Ebola epidemic is not yet over and every effort must be made to ensure that we eradicate this disease once and for all.”

This was the message delivered by Federica Mogherini, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, at the opening of the first International Conference on the virus, held in Brussels, Belgium, in the presence of the presidents of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Congo.

“The Ebola epidemic is not yet over and every effort must be made to ensure that we eradicate this disease once and for all.”Health ministers and delegations from Europe, the United States, China, Cuba, and Australia were also in attendance.

“From Emergency to Recovery” was the theme of the meeting that analyzed the current state of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – the most affected nations with a combined number of 24,000 cases, of which 9,700 proved fatal, since December 2013.

According to European Commission statistics, after initial reports of a high number of infections, the figure of new cases has stabilized, although the total number of affected people is still elevated.

Mogherini, who stressed that recovery needed to extend beyond individuals to families, communities, entire nations, and even continents, said that “we should not simply assume that the worst has passed. We are now highly aware of how aggressive and contagious this disease is.”

Meanwhile, Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, called for more efforts in order the bring the rate of new infections down to zero, adding that “this is a vital first step on the road to recovery.”

She noted that the virus had impacted forcefully on the affected countries’ economies, with a toll on income, consumption, production and agriculture.

According to European Commission data, the epidemic has been responsible for a contraction of 12 percent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in these three nations.

The international community has pledged 4.9 billion dollars in aid since the start of the outbreak. However, only half of this amount has been delivered.

The remainder is still required to cover vital costs of medical supplies and health professionals.

“The Ebola epidemic is not yet over and every effort must be made to ensure that we eradicate this disease once and for all.”One of the most significant challenges is the maintenance of actual levels of aid. The Liberian president said that “we need our international partners to live up to their commitments.”

That is the only way the target of zero new cases can be accomplished by mid-April. The presidents of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea jointly called for efforts not to lessen.

THE CUBAN CONTRIBUTION

The role of Cuban medical brigades in the three affected West African nations was outlined at the conference by Deputy Minister for Health, Marcia Cobas, who said that the island’s teams had attended to more than 1,700 cases and saved the lives of 356 patients.

The Cuban medical mission started last October with the arrival of 165 health professionals in Sierra Leone. A few days later a further 53 specialists were sent to Liberia and another 38 to Guinea.

“Our combined actions are an example of service and solidarity in support of people who, in addition to the Ebola epidemic, suffer economic, social, infrastructural and human resource deficits which limit their effectiveness in the face of such states of emergency,” Cobas said.

The expert stressed that the “international cooperation must be sustained in order to guarantee strengthened systems of health,“ adding that she was very much in favor of maintaining the mobilization until the epidemic is declared as “controlled” by the World Health Organization.

Cobas also emphasized the importance of identifying post Ebola tasks with a fundamental focus on health systems within the three countries as well as community based initiatives to educate and prepare the population for future epidemiological situations.

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