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Ebola pandemic: could have done but did not do and now too late

What began as another outbreak of Ebola in Africa is fast progressing to a global pandemic.  In contrast to an epidemic (more than the expected number of people being  affected) and an endemic disease (always proportionally affecting a particular community), a pandemic is a sudden and widespread outbreak affecting a whole region (e.g. West  Africa), a whole continent (e.g. Africa), or the world at large (e.g. Aids). With the ISIS terror movement spreading its wings,  the global economy still on a ‘quantitative easing’ (the printing of money by central governments) dialysis, and ordinary people running out of tricks to make ends meet, an Ebola pandemic is the last the world needs now.  Yet, opportunities were missed and we should not have arrived at the turning point we reached last week.

Plenty of warnings were issued by experts, the governments of the worst affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), and charitable organizations and volunteers on the ground in West Africa. However, world leaders at large ignored the warnings and instead approached the issue through their dated ‘Ebola is something that only affects people deep down in Africa’ lenses. Do these tired suits realize that in the 21st century, with the ease of regional and international travel, diseases spread faster? Did they think that security checkpoints at airports could somehow detect and deny entry to the virus? Nevertheless, for your reassurance, they believe now that airport screenings can prevent the further spread of the virus –incubation of up to 21 days and early symptoms not dissimilar to what happens when someone gets a bad cold, flu, or food poisoning render airport screenings inade quate and ineffective.

The WHO and experts outline two scenarios. If the Ebola outbreak is not contained within roughly two months, the disease could spread at a rate of thousands of new cases per month. If contained, the spread will be more limited but still hundreds more will die monthly. A third scenario is that one of the vaccines currently being developed and/or on trial will work and enter into production in a few months.  Off course these are ‘all things remaining equal’ scenarios not taking into account, for example, the mutation of the virus, the merging of Ebola with another virus, or a large outbreak difficult to control or monitor such as one among  ISIS fighters or one of the terrorist groups operating in the central and eastern part of Africa. Please choose whichever scenario makes you feel better, or panic less.  Against this backdrop, however, it is worth pondering how much governments are doing to prevent the worst-case scenario from materialising. Using the crudest of statistical values, money, is perhaps a good starting point.

On September 16, 2014, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that it needed $988 million to tackle the disease up until February 2015 in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone alone. About $378 million has been given so far –$217 million has been pledged, but I am sure you will agree that in times of crises pledges sound good but do not really count. Please read the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak: Overview of Needs and Requirements (PDF) for a breakdown of the figures. By far, the bulk of the money given comes from the United States (over $200 million) and the World Bank (over $100 million). Germany (GDP $3.6 trillion) and the United Kingdom (GDP $2.5 trillion) are amongst the top-ten donors and have given over $10 million each.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also launched the United Nations System Response to the Ebola Outbreak ‘to unite efforts of all concerned UN Entities and act as a platform for the global control of the Ebola Outbreak.’ The website of the Ebola Response MPTF offers live updates, so that governments cannot hide anymore behind words and pledges. At the time this post was being written, there was only one actual contribution:  Colombia $100,000. China, the world’s most populous country (1.36 billion people) with the world’s second largest GDP ($9.33 trillion) and with heavy investments in Africa, does not even figure on the donations lists. These figures set the tone: have governments done enough to help prevent a global Ebola pandemic?

The general director of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF: Doctors Without Borders), Christopher Stokes, remarked today that MSF volunteers continue to put up with the worst of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Their role, so as that played by other charities, volunteers, and personnel from international organizations, is commendable. As for governments, with a few exceptions, the game is fast shifting to the usual ’should have done,’ ’could have done,’ but ‘will do now’ whenever a new suspected case of Ebola is reported.  The next time you hear politicians say that they care and are doing something about tackle the Ebola pandemic, please visit the websites of OCHA and Ebola Response MPTF to see if for a change they have put some of your taxpayer money where their mouth is.

About militaryecology

MilitaryEcology.com focuses on topical global security issues. We approach them against the backdrop of the fast evolving military ‘ecology’ landscape populated by myriad public and private actors often explicitly or implicitly operating in public-private ‘security partnerships. This Private-Public Military Ecology blog is linked to PrivateMilitary.org’s aims, which are oriented towards the dissemination of security knowledge. We also encourage people to engage in constructive debate.


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October 2014
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