The Ebola challenge
As the Senate considers President Obama’s request for $6.2 billion to combat Ebola, the questions of US leadership and the international response are critical. On Wednesday, the Brookings Institution hosted a conversation with Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID and Eric Postel, Assistant to the Administrator for Africa, to discuss the topic. The moderator was Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution.
In March, the Ebola outbreak appeared to be on the path to being mitigated, but urban transmission exploded and by May the transmission rates were as high as 2.5 for infected persons. This decimated the health care systems in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, none of which have yet to recover. Shah noted that one of the biggest obstacles is the unpredictability of when or where the next outbreak will be.
In addressing the US role, Shah echoed the sentiments of President Obama, who in a letter to Congress stated
My foremost priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans, and this request supports all necessary steps to fortify our domestic health system and prevent any outbreaks at home…Over the longer term, my administration recognizes that the best way to prevent additional cases at home will be to contain and eliminate the epidemic at its source in Africa.
Shah believes controlling the virus at the source is the only way to guarantee the safety and security of the American people.
Another issue is the setback the Ebola outbreak will cause in the region. According to Postel, preliminary data shows that there has been a significant impact, specifically in the growth of the affected nations. This has been caused many factors such as halts in investments and the flight of expatriates from host countries. While one attendee posed the question of how to incentivize foreigners from curtailing their time in these countries, neither had a solution.
The president of the World Bank recently announced the need for at least 5,000 more health workers in Sierre Leone, Guinea and Liberia. However, quarantine practices for returning health care workers and the growing fear of infection are creating obstacles. The appearance of Ebola in Mali suggests the epidemic is not slowing down.
Shah mentioned the training of thousands of health workers in West Africa in order to thwart the further spread of the disease however there have been numerous reports of inadequate materials and training for health care workers within West Africa. This dissatisfaction with the conditions was met with an estimated 100,000 members of National Nurses United (NNU), from California to the Philippines, taking part in global “strikes and vigils to highlight perceived failings” surrounding the international response to Ebola.
With the death toll surpassing 5,000 in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea there is a responsibility from international community to allocate the proper funding and resources to ensure the necessary precautions are being taken and the appropriate measures are being put in place. The Ebola crisis must be met with monetary as well as physical assistance in order to effectively combat the deadly disease.