Peter Piot, the microbiologist who helped discover Ebola 28 years ago, has said that while the military, financial and human resources support offered by countries like the US and UK to help prevent the spread of Ebola was “admirable”, measures such as quarantining returning aid workers for 21 days after returning from Ebola-affected areas was “a major deterrent and disincentive for supporting the countries in West Africa affected by Ebola”.
“The number of people who want to do this, they all usually have a busy life, they won’t be volunteering anymore,” he said and volunteers were “vital”.
In an interview on Talk to Al Jazeera, Piot also said that in countries where there have been cases of Ebola, cultural practices like touching the bodies of the dead at funerals, and the belief in witchcraft, needed to be taken into consideration, and that people with knowledge of local languages and cultures was critical to the response.
“The concept of an infectious agent is not always there,” he said. “People may think it’s witchcraft or ‘someone wanted me to die’.”
Piot, who brings a unique and informed perspective on the virus to the discussion, criticised the World Health Organisation for taking five months to declare the Ebola outbreak as a state of emergency.
“It took a thousand dead Africans and two Americans who were repatriated to the US because they were infected. There’s no excuse for that… It took too long; we wasted too much precious time,” he said.
This was despite the fact that individuals like himself and organisations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had already launched appeals for aid months before that.
Watch the full interview here:
– Featured image via Sylvain Cherkaoui/MSF