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Stop Stigmatising Africans Over Ebola, Says Ugandan Minister Ephraim Kamuntu

06/11/2014 18:14 GMT | Updated 06/11/2014 18:59 GMT

All Africans are being unfairly stigmatised because of Ebola, with the Western world feeling more entitled to high standards on care than victims on the continent, one of Uganda's most influential politicians has said.

Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda's minister for the environment, told HuffPost UK his government felt like they were seeing the same stigmatisation that occurred during the HIV AIDs crisis happening again.

Speaking at the Economist's World Water Summit in London, Kamuntu said that Ebola was containable, but not without international compromises and collaboration. "Ebola is very dangerous disease, it is contagious but it can be handled, with the correct scientific approach," he told HuffPost UK.

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Ephraim Kamuntu, minister for the environment in Uganda

"To begin to stigmatise Ebola, just like HIV AIDS, is the wrong approach. Ebola is happening in West Africa, so the Western world wants to put a ban on travel?

"What does that mean? It means the help cannot get to the affect areas. You are discouraging international efforts to address this challenge. You have not cured it. It has to be a challenge confronted globally, and everyone has to participate and be allowed to move. That's basic."

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Lessons had to be learned from the reaction to HIV AIDS, Kamuntu said, adding that he had been disheartened by the different class of treatment given to Western sufferers of the disease. "We know that if this was happening in the Western world, the cure would have been found a long time ago.

"The contrast in the care has been stark, you know it. This is a human challenge, solidarity is needed for a solution."

Uganda experienced outbreaks of Ebola in 2007, with around 150 cases, and in 2012, where there were just over 20 cases, although on a far smaller scale than the West African countries currently engulfed in the epidemic.

In the past 21 days there have been 1,174 new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, almost triple the 398 new cases in Liberia and more than quadruple the 256 new cases in Guinea, according to figures released Wednesday by the World Health Organisation.

Ebola, for which there is no cure, is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Around 70% of those that have contracted Ebola during the current outbreak have died.

Many of the leaders speaking at the Summit stressed the priority of new infrastructure and sanitation to tackle the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Barbara Frost, chief executive of Water Aid, told HuffPost that a lack of running water and toilet facility had let the disease spread far more rapidly. "Inevitably the spread is faster because of the lack of that infrastructure," she said. "The health services in Sierra Leone, Liberia did not have the hygiene facilities. In Nigeria, just next door, the systems are better and it has been contained."

"It's hard to say how huge the difference would be if we spent money on infrastructure in those countries, rather than scanning people at airports. But it seems obvious that [infrastructure] would be the place to spend the money. The British government has set up this pop-up hospital and that is great, that's where one hopes the emphasis will be now.

"There's no doubt the international response was slow, but it is gearing up now. The fear and the psychological impact on those countries have been immense."

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A woman suspected of suffering from the Ebola virus is pushed in a wheelchair to be taken to an Ebola treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia

Kamuntu said emphasis on industrialisation and urbanisation of developing countries had meant that proper attention had not been paid to sanitation or access to water. "We have funds for infrastructure and roads in Uganda, we have funds for energy to set up electricity, but there is no water fund. Urbanisation is happening at a phenomenal rate, and as people come into urban areas the demand for water is greater, the strain is here.

"We have to plan in advance of urbanisation, it cannot continue to be so ad hoc. Urbanisation is part of economic transformation into industrial societies. So we have to be prepared, it must be planned, you must have water, electricity, sanitation."

Frost said the disparity was clear in Africa, but also in India. "Unless sanitation and the movement of human waste keeps pace with urbanisation, there are going to be more health crises, including more cholera outbreaks. They will be far more common than they are at the moment.

"In many cities in developing nations, you have all the trappings of modernity next to open sewers."