What Is To Be Done About The Ebola Emergency In West Africa?
Daily Guide August 30, 2014
PANIC has set in to undermine the efforts being made by the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, to combat the terrible Ebola outbreak in their countries.
The government of Liberia, for instance, went overboard to quarantine the district of West Point, in Monrovia city. (This has now been lifted.) No-one needs to point out that imposing quarantine in an urban setting is both dangerous and ineffective. No wonder there were instances of rioting reported in Monrovia.
The quarantine imposed on parts of the Liberian countryside is no better. It will prevent medical assistance and, in some cases, food supplies, being taken to the quarantined areas. Conversely, urban areas which depend on the rural areas for food will also be seriously affected. In counties already suffering from inflation, that is a blow the citizens could well do without. But even worse, the quarantine will force people to congregate together in larger numbers whenever food or other supplies arrive to be shared. And it will present a chaotic situation to government or NGO health personnel who try to tend sick people or seek to implement measuresmto prevent the spreading of Ebola.
President Johnson Sirleaf, one of the most enlightened leaders in Africa, says she is suspending the constitutional rights of Liberian citizens for 90 days, to combat the pandemic. Obviously, she is doing this because she believes that force must at times be needed to implement some of the measures her government is using to combat the Ebola outbreak.
But even though her suspension of some of Liberians’ constitutional rights is made in good faith, it is not a wise decision. For it will only increase fear in the country. People will go away with the perception that the government is acting that way because things are too desperate to be brought under control. And such a feeling will only go to increase the panic felt by the populace.
More worrying is the fact that on the ground, very little appears to have been done to reassure the people that that the inadequate health facilities in Liberia are being urgently revamped to cope with the new emergency. Liberians, with some justification, will come to believe that the situation will get worse before it gets better. How absolutely depressing that must be for them.
In Sierra Leone, too, fear has gripped the population. The government has announced that anyone who helps to conceal those suspected of having contracted Ebola, will face two years imprisonment. Yet, as in Liberia, health facilities are patchy. Even Medecins Sans Frontieres, one of the bravest humanitarian organisations in the world (its forte is to send doctors into areas of danger where normal medical personnel don’t dare to operate) is said to be withdrawing many of its staff from Sierra Leone. And the World Health Organisation (WHO) is in no better position, either.
In fact, whilst the West African governments are sinking under the weight of their own helplessness, the outside world does not appear to be doing much to help them.
Air France has been told by the French government not to fly to Sierra Leone any more. Some other airlines have similarly decided to avoid both Sierra Leone and Liberia. This will only worsen the situation for the two countries. It means that medical personnel and medical supplies, in the rare case of being made available, cannot be flown speedily on the aircraft of the Airlines concerned to go and assist in the ‘quarantined’ countries.
France should answer this question: it is a member of the WHO, and the WHO has said clearly that it is not necessary to stop flights to countries affected by Ebola, so long as strict vigilance is exercised at airports to spot persons who have possibly been stricken by Ebola. So why is France ordering Air France not to go to Sierra Leone, while apparently allowing the same Airline to go to Guinea?
The role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in all this has also been confusing. The organisation has declared the Ebola outbreak as a ‘health emergency’. But it has not put into place any radical plan to URGENTLY mobilise world-wide medical assistance for the countries being crippled by the disease. The WHO should, by now, have asked countries capable of providing assistance, to fly personnel and supplies in huge quantities to the stricken countries.
It is no secret that the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have all got units of medical personnel who are experts in fighting against nuclear and chemical-warfare attacks. The armed forces of all these countries incorporate trained units that are on standby to be flown into danger areas, if and when their territories are attacked with nuclear or chemical weapons. These well-equipped, highly-trained personnel can be given emergency instruction on how to change their techniques to combat Ebola. They can then be flown to the epicentres of the disease and practise the same safe methods of providing medical care to disease victims, which they would carry out if a nuclear or chemical attack occurred. In fact, the Ebola attack could provide them with useful practical experience in fighting dangerous illnesses.
Why are the advanced countries not doing it? Ask me another.
What makes the inaction of these countries – especially the United States – more puzzling is that the USA was actually carrying out a research programme into haemorrhagic fevers, such as Lassa and Ebola (under a contract awarded to Tulane University and other groups of scientists worth about $300m) in the three countries that constitute the Mano River basin (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) before the outbreak began. Whatever the three countries have, or have not, contributed to American medical research, the fact that they were willing to allow the Americans to carry out medical research in their territory, places a MORAL DUTY on the United States in particular to lend them a hand to fight a terrible scourge like Ebola.
I am certain that if it was tasked to do so, the United States Army could fly fully-equipped, ready-made personnel isolation structures to the three countries. And, of course, it could take the health carers there, the latex gloves and sealed uniforms, without which no-one can safely go near an Ebola patient.
By Cameron Duodu