Halting a déjà vu
The worse is now behind us, the victims of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa are far fewer than in the months following the outbreak; and there is now a better understanding of the Ebola Virus in the region and the catastrophes that come with it.
Around the world, the EVD is now recognised as a global threat and not just one that is confined to West Africa or the equatorial forest regions of central Africa.
Better still, there is now light at the end of the dark tunnel as various vaccines are being developed, some have even reached trial stages. Still, it is noteworthy to ask what went wrong and how the epidemic can be avoided in the future.
In this edition of the West Africa Insight (WAI) we reflect on the issue from 1various perspectives: it opens with Terfa Hemen looking at the health systems of the three most affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. He argues that their ineffectiveness is at the core of their failure to contain the EVD, especially at the very start of the epidemic. And, a closer look at their health systems’ modus operandi reveals that, like several other sectors that are responsible for promoting the well-being of West African citizens, they specifically lack knowledge and capacity; suffer from poor financing; and lack robust domestic infrastructures and institutions capable of controlling epidemics and major health challenges such as EVD. Joe Hindovei Pemagbi’s piece which follows poses the crucial issue of the African countries’ own capacity to effectively respond to various serious emergency situations and their often blind reliance on international aid to tackle such situations. He precisely looks at Sierra Leone’s response to EVD and how the huge human and financial resources deployed by both the government and its bilateral and multilateral partners have been invested to control the epidemic, and how despite the relatively good results of the anti EVD’s strategy, “challenges about coordination and accountability of both internally generated resources and external aid” remain. Beyond the mortality rates and the huge human resources lost, Professor Akpan H. Ekpo contends that the whole EVD debacle did harm not only the economies of the three most affected West African countries, but also the whole of West Africa. Analysing explicitly the impacts of the epidemic on the GDPs of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; and on various sectors of their economies, he concludes that unless concrete steps are taken, these countries will face tougher times in the coming years. And because they rank among the poorest countries in the world, we can only imagine what obstacles they face as the EVD winds down and that the challenges of reconstruction and society rebuilding begin.
Not to dwell so much on what may seem as the negatives, a look at the very inspiring efforts of how Nigeria contained the EVD ends the edition. DR Terna Nomhwange’s piece, in that regard, provides hope for the future, but also demonstrates that African countries do posses the capacity to solve their problems by themselves. In fact, the Nigeria success story, which Nomhwange portrays well, showcases the level of cooperation and cohesion that was employed by individuals, organisations, whether religious or social, and governments at different levels. Neither religion, nor political affiliation mattered. All differences were set aside as everybody worked together in the efforts to contain the EVD outbreak. The use of already existing viable health systems and institutions, such as the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response system (IDSR), and the Polio Eradication Initiative in Nigeria which track polio cases and supervises immunisation in the country showcased well the fact that institutions, if properly managed, can go a long way in solving many problems African countries face. This and every other effort put in by the Nigerian people is a lesson for the rest of Africa. We can only go this way in the coming years if we intend to solve our plethora of problems.
As you read this edition of the West Africa Insight, it is our intention that having learnt the lessons, we are duty bound to put in place the necessary apparatus in case such a situation occurs again. This we must do to halt a déjà vu.
Idayat Hassan Director, CDD