(DW)-Ebola has now killed more than 1,800 people in Liberia and 600 in Sierra Leone, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the outbreak could grow exponentially, with 20,000 infected worldwide by November if control measures in West Africa are not quickly implemented.
With a case of Ebola now confirmed in the United States, more-developed countries have been taking a stronger interest in getting the outbreak under control.
But what needs to occur for that to actually happen?
At a conference on Thursday (02.10.2014) in London, countries and other international donors were asked to pledge more support to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Coinciding with this, the United Kingdom International Development Committee released a report drawing a connection between reduced aid and the present crisis.
The UK International Development Committee’s report on recovery and development in Sierra Leone and Liberia suggests a reduction in West African health funding has weakened healthcare systems there and contributed to their near-collapse in addressing the present Ebola outbreak.
Sir Malcolm Bruce, a House of Commons parliamentarian and chair of the committee, explains the connection: “If we’re going to have the capacity to deal with these kinds of crises, then we need to continue to invest in long-term development of the health systems in both countries.”
Clinics had been set up in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but were not fully engaged with or trusted by the communities, says Sir Malcolm.
He says recognition of the current crisis is important, but “that won’t deliver long-term results unless we continue to invest in partnerships with these governments to develop their health systems,” as Nigeria has.
Not only should the UK restore funding for development aid – toward which concrete proposals have been made, but also other countries need to follow the UK’s lead and increase their donations. “We are challenging other countries – Germany, France, Italy – to match these funds,” Sir Malcolm told DW.
He adds aid money should not follow politics, by reapportioning funding depending on the political crisis of the moment. “If you forget about problem countries, and you don’t support them, then they’ll come back and bite you in the long run,” Sir Malcolm says.
But Manji Cheto, the vice-president for the West Africa section of Teneo Intelligence, an industry consulting group, says it’s “harsh and unfair” to make such a connection.
“It’s very difficult to actually draw a direct correlation between an aid cut and exacerbating this crisis,” Cheto told DW.
She says that while international support is clearly needed in the period immediately following the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, countries should not have been allowed to become dependent on such aid.
As such countries developed economically, donor countries should have assured the new wealth, for example from exploitation of natural resources, was channeled into “creating robust [healthcare] systems.”
Aid in Africa is “problematic and fairly ineffective,” Cheto says, “because the monitoring systems are not there on the developed donor side.”
“Ebola is punishing the international community for its lack of investment in healthcare systems in West Africa, for sure,” says Sanjayan Srikanthan, emergency field director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Ahead of the London conference this Thursday, the IRC had issued a statement emphasizing timeliness in implementing measures to quell the current Ebola crisis.
Politically motivated contributions?
Srikanthan, who on Tuesday returned from providing medical support in Liberia, spoke to DW from Lancaster House, where the London conference had just ended.
More than 10 countries participated, he said, with notable contributions, including from the UK, US, Germany and Australia.
This is especially critical with the number of cases doubling every two weeks, says Srikanthan.
The WHO has expressed a need for a 20-fold response, while the CDC estimates the outbreak could balloon to as many as 1.5 million cases by January, adds Srikanthan.
“There’s a great deal being pledged, we just need to make sure that translates into action on the ground and the change we want to see on rates of transmission of Ebola,” Srikanthan says. “A lot of the contributions have been financial or supplies – but what we need is staff.”
“I would praise Cuba above all others, which donated per head far more in terms of doctors,” says Srikanthan.
Cuba’s 140-plus doctors are already working in Sierra Leone – which represents “an incredible commitment for a small country, far more than much larger countries have offered.”