Ebola: A wake-up call for lead­ers

Dis­ease ex­poses the weak­nesses of ne­glected health­care sys­tems

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Masimba Tafirenyika

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.

UNICEF/Liberia/Jal­lanzo

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...

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