BAMAKO (Reuters) - The United Nations mission to fight Ebola should be wound down quickly once the battle is won, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Saturday during his first tour of countries stricken with the virus.
The U.N. emergency Ebola response mission, or UNMEER, was set up in September to coordinate policy and logistics for a campaign that includes governments, charities and healthcare workers from affected countries.
Ban said UNMEER differed from peacekeeping missions and should not outlive its immediate purpose.
"There's a tendency that missions go on because of continuing political instability and conflict. Ebola is a very urgent and unprecedented epidemic, therefore we cannot take too long in eliminating it," he told Reuters.
"That is why I am sending a political message. It is not because we have made any decision on when UNMEER should end, but it should be a short-term mission," he said.
More than 7,300 people have died of Ebola in the three worst-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ban declined to name a target date for ending the outbreak, but said he was encouraged that the rate of new cases is declining.
He visited treatment centres in the countries at the heart of the epidemic during a 36-hour tour to raise the profile of the struggle against the virus and encourage healthcare workers.
On Saturday, he also met Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of Mali, a country that recently saw the last of eight Ebola cases released from hospital.
At every stop, health authorities took his temperature and ensured he washed his hands with chlorinated water in a sign that nobody is exempt from protection measures.In Guinea on Saturday, Ban urged countries to avoid discriminating against healthcare workers fighting the virus.
His comments followed a meeting at a treatment centre in Sierra Leone on Friday in which Rebecca Johnson, a nurse treating virus patients, recounted how she fell ill, recovered and is now back treating Ebola patients.
Ban publicly embraced Johnson and repeatedly cited her as an example of heroism, not least because she said she still faced stigma as a survivor.
"There should be no discrimination for those who have been working or helping with Ebola. Those people are giving all of themselves," Ban said.
Editing by G Crosse