I had already started to pen this weeks article when a few headlines/comments/articles caught my eye, forcing me to push it onto the back burner, as I feel this issue is more pertinent and pressing.
A tweet from Laurie Garrett had me concerned. She tweeted; Google News no longer ranks #Ebola in top 20 search items, and even within the health category, only in the Italian and USA news-feeds. This was then followed by a press release from the UN (United Nations’ Ebola Emergency Response Mission – UNMEER) stating that they will miss their December the 1st containment target, due to escalating numbers of cases in Sierra Leone.
The kicker, that then really got me switching my thought train was a press release from the the nonprofit ONE.org (http://www.one.org/us/ebola-tracker/). The Ebola Response Tracker follows the money and shows us the money; i.e.: how much that has been pledged, has made it onto the ground in West Africa to fight the good fight. While the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN, and the World Bank have data on the dollar figures associated with each pledge, no one had taken the time to figure out how much of those resources have actually made it to the ground in West Africa.
Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director at ONE and the brains behind the tracker, says the tracker shows the importance in transparency (and the follow through on ones commitment). “It’s one thing to make a great pledge and commit to doing that, but in the meantime, every day that goes by without these resources is a missed opportunity.”
While progress has been made in the months since these pledges, there is still much work to be done. The USA leads the pack with the highest pledge and disbursement; $572 million of which 72% has made it to the ground in West Africa. Here is a sampling of a few other countries, foundations and institutions: (in no particular order)
Google/Larry Page Family Foundation pledged $25 million – none disbursed yet
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $50 million – 27% disbursed
African Development Bank $220 million – 20% disbursed
Paul G. Allen Family Foundation – $100 million 3% disbursed
Silicon Valley Community Foundation $25 million – none disbursed yet
EU $468 million – 17.5% disbursed
China $123 million – 8% disbursed
Australia $36 million – 38% disbursed
Visit their website to check out other countries and follow them on twitter and facebook.
At a press conference last week, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that the progress her country has made may be damaging. “Our government remains concerned that progress in this battle will lead to complacency on the part of the international community. We must not interpret gains as an outright victory—nothing could be more dangerous.” Complacency must not be allowed to seep in, we need to keep the issues on the front pages. Margaret Chan, director of the World Health Organization, agrees on the complacency front; “We must not forget—Ebola virus is a formidable enemy. Yes, we are seeing some early signals of hope. Cases are stabilizing, we are also seeing some new areas where they are reporting new cases. We must maintain our vigilance. Complacency would be our enemy. And in order to get it to zero, we have been successful in bending the curve a bit, but we need to continue to do more to get to zero.”
The fight is still in the early stages, we must aggressively push to keep Ebola in the news and for more action on the ground. The international response is being outpaced by this epidemic, If more help doesn’t arrive soon, the worst may not be over. Ebola hasn’t simply overwhelmed these health-care systems, it has decimated them. Women in need of support for childbirth have been turned away, leading to an increase in infant morality rates in a region with the some of the highest numbers in the world. Children suffering from malaria or extreme diarrhea are now too often left without medical care, leading to an increase in deaths from dehydration. Life-saving vaccines for those illnesses and others are lying unused in clinics and warehouses, as there are not enough (or any) medical workers to disburse them. Crops are not being planted, food is not making it to the market places!
UNMEER was set up to provide coordination, policy and logistics rather than to treat patients. It needs more resources to halt Ebola as quickly as possible, at present the emphasis is on allocating existing resources in the smartest way, possibly because they are still waiting for more resources/pledges/manpower to make it to the ground in West Africa.
According to October estimates from the World Bank, the epidemic could cost the West African countries affected upward of $32 billion in the next 24 months. What are we waiting for! Every day spent without pledges being delivered on, manpower to hit the ground and the process of rebuilding shattered healthcare services and networks; more people die. Containing Ebola is a constant battle and already we are seeing it cropping up in Mali, where to next?
I will let Anthony Banbury from UNMEER end this weeks blog:
Containing the epidemic still calls for a tremendous increase in resources on the ground. We are far, far away from ending this crisis, there is a long battle ahead of us.