Ebola: A wake-up call for leaders
Disease exposes the weaknesses of neglected healthcare systems
The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has exposed the underbelly of many of Africa’s healthcare systems. They are often poorly funded, severely neglected and in some cases virtually nonexistent. The disease’s virulence has overwhelmed health systems that even before Ebola lacked basic equipment and facilities, medical staff and supporting infrastructure.
Ebola has shaken and awakened decision-makers in a way that malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemic diseases that claim millions of lives in Africa each year have failed to do, with the possible exception of HIV/AIDS.
As fate would have it, the epicenter of the virus is in countries that are among the world’s poorest, although in 2013 Sierra Leone and Liberia ranked second and sixth among the top 10 countries with the highest economic growth rates in the world, according to The Brookings Institution, a US think tank. As reported by The New York Times, “The disintegration of the health care systems in the affected countries is already having a profound impact on the populations’ health beyond Ebola, as clinics close or become overwhelmed or nonfunctional.” To exacerbate the situation, these health systems, including the general infrastructure, were wrecked by internal conflicts and civil wars to the point where they now struggle to provide basic health care to citizens.
A wake-up call
Although the years of conflicts in West Africa are still being felt, this does not solely explain the devastation brought by the Ebola virus. Graça Machel, the widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, said the Ebola outbreak should be a wake-up call for African leaders. “Ebola has exposed the extreme weaknesses of our institutions as governments, countries which are affected were found totally unprepared,” she told African business leaders in November 2014 at a meeting in South Africa.
Girls in Voinjama, Liberia, look at a poster that displays information on Ebola. The outbreak of Ebola, one of the most feared diseases in recent times, in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone caught the world completely unprepared. The pandemic has killed thousands of people, with implications far beyond the borders of the affected countries.