NewsWest AfricaPolitics in the Ebola crucible


Posted on Monday, 27 April 2015 11:56

Politics in the Ebola crucible

 Survivor Beatrice Yardolo meets the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Photo©Francis KokorokoIt is tempting to look at the photo of Beatrice Yardolo, Liberia's last known Ebola patient, and imagine that this crisis is nearly over.

It is true that Liberia declared it has no Ebola patients, but Guinea and Sierra Leone are still reporting new cases.

The virus has claimed 10,000 lives over the past 15 months.

Unlike in Liberia, attempts to mobilise communities to manage the contact tracing and to police the quarantine arrangements are yet to win widespread support in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Apart from organisational and political matters, the UN-led programme to fight Ebola requires an additional $400m by the end of June.

For many health workers, this Ebola outbreak was a test of our ability to respond

The outbreak can teach us some critical political lessons: the first relates to the practical power of grassroots organisations.

After a false start, Liberia's government realised that communities were the key to fighting the virus.

It was the innovative response of those communities that helped shut down the virus in Liberia by March.

For taking on such responsibilities, many activists are demanding their rights: to contribute to policy-making and to ensure that resources are being managed accountably.

The same goes for some of the heroic health workers, such as Jerry Brown, the medical director at the Eternal Love Winning Africa hospital in Monrovia.

Dr Brown was one of the first to risk his life and set up facilities – with minimal resources – to treat Ebola patients.

After his near-death experiences, he has strong views on the planned overhaul of Liberia's health system.

The general verdict from communities is that national governments should devolve resources and power.

National governments faced the sharpest judgements at the outset of the Ebola crisis.

In all three countries, there was a breakdown of trust between the rulers and the ruled.

Many people simply refused to believe government claims about the virus, suspecting some financial scam to divert aid money or a plot to wipe out citizens using witchcraft.

Finally, the initial incompetence with which the Ebola crisis was managed showed huge flaws in the international system.

True, donor countries have cut funding to the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) by some $500m for 2013-2014, but it was the WHO management's decision to take most of that money out of the budget for regional health emergencies.

The WHO also did not announce an emergency in Ebola-hit countries until last August, six months after Médecins Sans Frontières had launched its operations.

For many health professionals, this Ebola outbreak was a wake-up call, a test of our readiness to respond.

The international system was found wanting, and the next outbreak could come from a much more contagious virus.

There seems to be a strong case for a new UN body charged solely with the management of such crises.

Yet if the rich countries blanch at financing the WHO and with the worst memories of the Ebola outbreak beginning to dim, what will it take to make finance ministers from rich countries write that cheque? ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us