Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 16th 2014 Contents OCTOBER 2014 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG25
Is the global response to Ebola in West
Africa indifference? Whatever it is, the
response of governments has been
abysmal with the single exception of
Cuba whose government has sent
medical assistance disproportionately
large to its size and resources.
While the US and China---the two largest
economies---have also sent help, it is miniscule
in relation to the severity of the Ebola problem.
It is distressing that the governments of rich
countries in Europe, apart from a belated surge
by Britain, have done little.
Already Ebola has killed 3,341 people in
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That s only
the official figure. Not counted are many who
could not get to doctors or whose families hid
them through fear that "quarantine" was a
euphemism for a place to die. In these three
countries alone, there are 6,553 probable, con-
firmed and suspected cases.
The director of Médecins Sans Frontières,
Joanne Liu, at the UN Security Council in
early September, condemned the international
response as "lethally inadequate".
The US and other G7 nations are quick to
respond to human rights violations the world
over. They are right to do so, particularly when
innocent people are murdered in the thousands
by tyrannical regimes. But these wealthy
nations should respond just as quickly when
thousands of people are being killed by disease.
Speaking in the UN General Assembly in
September, about containing Ebola, US Pres-
ident Obama said, almost prophetically: "We
need a broader effort to stop a disease that
could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific
suffering, destabilise economies, and move
rapidly across borders. It s easy to see this as
a distant problem---until it is not."
Ebola is fast becoming a problem that is far
from distant. A team of scientists at North-
eastern University in Boston has claimed that,
by the end of October, the virus could spread
across the world reaching China, Britain and
France, among other countries. The researchers
put the chance of Ebola reaching France by
November as high as 75 per cent.
Europe has already registered the first person
known to have contracted the disease outside
of West Africa. Teresa Romero, a nurse in
Spain, is now in quarantine along with her
husband and three others with whom she was
in close contact. She had treated two Spanish
missionaries who had contracted the virus in
West Africa. They have since died. Also dying
this week was Thomas Eric Duncan from
Liberia. He died in the US, having been the
first person diagnosed with the virus within
the US, although it had caught him in West
The US and countries in Europe have moved
swiftly to keep the disease from their shores
and to contain it once it is within their bound-
aries, even though they say that the risk is
. Already screening has begun at airports.
There will be more. For sure, airlines will be
instructed to curtail traffic to and from West
African countries. There will be a re-intro-
duction of the kind of border vigilance that
was seen after the 9/11 atrocities in the US.
There will also be mobilisation of hospitals
and huge investment in medical equipment,
medical personnel, training and mass education
about the disease. No one could possibly quar-
rel with that.
The protection and preservation of life is
paramount among national responsibilities.
But, it should be so in the international com-
munity as well. Caring about human suffering
goes beyond borders. The lives of people in
West Africa are as valuable as lives in the west
coast of the US or Western Australia.
Why has the global response to Ebola in
West Africa been so poor? If Ebola was spread-
ing across borders in Europe and internal
boundaries of the US, the response would have
been more urgent and vigorous. Witness the
media frenzy and the swift response of author-
ities to the announcement of the Spanish
nurse s infection, and the death of Thomas
The world quickly knew their names. But
who knows any of the names of those killed
by Ebola in West Africa?
As the problem in West Africa escalates, so
too does the sum of money needed to combat
it. Current UN estimates that US$1 billion is
now needed will rise exponentially if govern-
ments and the private sector around the world
do not contribute funds swiftly. What is
urgently required is protective clothing for
every worker who deals with people infected
by the virus, including doctors, nurses, stretcher
bearers, mortuary personnel and grave diggers.
More hospital beds are also needed, more
transport, more laboratory testing equipment,
and, importantly, quarantine facilities that do
not become breeding grounds for the spread
of the virus.
According to a recent report, the British
capital, London, alone is home to 72 billionaires,
whose individual net worth is more than the
entire economy of Liberia. If these high-worth
persons around the world and their govern-
ments were to demonstrate readiness to tackle
Ebola in West Africa with the urgency and
generosity required, they would not only stop
the spread of the deadly virus, they would
save lives of thousands who now face certain
To its credit, the British government organ-
ised a pledging conference in London on Octo-
ber 2 for Sierra Leone. Several governments
and charitable organisations pledged money
or equipment. Britain at US$200 million
pledged more than twice as much as the second
highest, Germany at US$86.6 million. The
pledges of many other European countries
were pitiful, and others weren t even there. It
is possible that countries that either made
small pledges, or absented themselves, have
pledged to other efforts in the UN system. We
must hope so. It also has to be hoped that the
pledges will actually be delivered---so often,
they are not.
If indifference was the reason for the poor
response to Ebola s deadly trek in West Africa,
there can be no such unconcern now. Ebola
is knocking on everyone s door. At the UN in
September, Caribbean governments called on
UN agencies to increase and accelerate aid to
the West African nations. But, the call of
Caribbean governments would carry far greater
weight if they---and their civil society---were
to create a fund to contribute to fighting Ebola
in West Africa, however modest it may be.
Every country---rich ones especially, but
even small ones---has a duty to make a con-
tribution not only to stopping Ebola from
spreading, but also to saving the lives of des-
perate people in West Africa.
The writer is a consultant, senior fellow
at London University and former Caribbean
Ebola: Why such indifference
to West Africa? RONALD
Links Archive October 15th 2014 October 17th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page