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Ebola supplies are in demand in disease-stricken areas of West Africa, but shipments are backlogged, quarantined and delayed as supply ships are turned away and airlines cancel flights to the region. Brussels Airlines reported an 80-ton backlog of supplies at its hub airport and is considering adding charter flights, even though it has now resumed regular service after three days without operations. British Airways has suspended service to Liberia and Sierra Leone until next year. Air France-KLM has cancelled flights. According to cargo chief Herman Hoornaert, Brussels Airline is almost the only airline still operating to Freetown and Monrovia. Shipping lines are also refusing to dock at the countries’ ports.
Medical supplies, personal protective equipment and food are all in short supply with transportation shutdowns. Workers are reportedly making their own surgical face masks and gowns out of other material. Finding supplies is not the problem, as donations plentiful. However, the transportation shutdowns are causing incidents such as seen at JFK airport in New York, where nine pallets of desperately needed personal protective equipment sat for more than two weeks. Dr. David Nubarro, Senior U.N. Coordinator for Ebola, says isolating the affected countries complicates the response. He says the use of adequate precautions will avoid risk of infection.
Neighboring countries are turning away container ships filled with supplies. Ships that serve countries hit by Ebola are being turned away from disease-free neighboring countries, disrupting schedules and deliveries. Maersk Line, one of the leading shipping companies in West Africa, has delisted ports from its schedule due to local bans on ships that have called in any Ebola-affected country. Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity hospital ship, is sitting off the Canary Islands while debating whether to proceed with a trip to the Republic of Benin, which is adjacent to Nigeria, where 15 people have contracted the disease.
According to the United Nations (U.N.), Ebola has killed 1,900 people and is the largest epidemic that has been seen in the 40-year history of the disease. As the virus continues to spread across West Africa, the U.N. reports that there are now 3,500 confirmed cases. A separate outbreak has also infected 53 patients and killed 31 in a remote part of Congo in Central Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In addition to a shortage of medical supplies, the virus has placed the region’s food production and delivery at risk. Quarantine zones and restrictions on travel have led to panic buying, food shortages and price increases that place food completely out of the reach of many households, according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Vincent Martin. Travel restrictions are also causing labor shortages on farms, resulting in lost crops as farmers and migrant laborers are unable to get to the fields.
The U.N. says that an estimated 1.3 million people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea will need help obtaining food in the coming months. WHO is asking that countries lift their border closures to allow food and medical supplies to reach the people who need them. Guinea and Liberia borders remain closed, but last week Ivory Coast said it would be allowing supplies in through a humanitarian corridor.
As supplies sit due to travel restrictions from all avenues, disaster organizations such as Airlink are appealing to companies to help move the medical supplies to Ebola-affected countries. Yesterday President Obama said that the U.S. military will begin aiding in the response to provide equipment and other assistance.
By Beth A. Balen