EBOLA OUTBREAK IN WEST AFRICA: LESSONS LEARNED AND PERSPECTIVES

The Ebola outbreak currently striking West Africa, is showing how fragile states are in this region. This short paper is not meant to negatively criticize those states and their efforts but is meant to emphasize what has been achieved to this date to fight against the disease and also what perspectives could be drawn for the future.

Lesson N°1: the ECOWAS late mobilization

ECOWAS as the major regional organization could have been more responsive and adopt collaborative and preemptive measures earlier to all member states. Indeed the lack of anticipation just contributed to the spread of the disease. ECOWAS should have in the early hours of EBOLA’s emergence mobilized all the member states in order to secure the borders of each state and adopt common measures to prevent any spread of the disease. Moreover, ECOWAS could have organized an urgent meeting for all the west African researchers (doctors, professors etc.) or beyond west Africa in order to foster regional research on that disease with the help of the African Union and the international community (NGOs and states). Financial resources could have been mobilized in order to finance that research and fight the disease. Further, effective regional surveillance can help to describe and monitor the epidemic and its spread.

Lesson N°2: An overwhelmed international community

Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, UN General Secretary, asked for the international community involvement in helping the affected countries, by providing suitable means which includes health personnel and technical assistance to those countries (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea). Besides, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the spread of the disease has been largely under-estimated.

Until recently, the international community mobilization has been slow. The best example of that is the fact that experimental vaccines were made available only when two Americans were infected by Ebola. Those experimental cures could have been tested on affected Africans earlier in the outbreak.

On the other hand, NGOs such as “Medecins sans frontieres” (MSF) and the Red Cross, intervened and were involved at the very beginning of the disease and denounced the lack of resources and asked for more assistance. Today, those organizations face real resources problems and claim that the situation worsens faster than their capacity to face the spread. The latest figures are 1975 sick et 1069 deceased in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

LessonN°3: the weak national security measures

EBOLA today is a major threat to the regional stability and national security. However neighboring states of the affected countries have not yet mobilized their security and defense forces in order to strengthen theirs borders surveillance and inviolability.

To this day major measures taken to avoid propagation include states boundaries being closed and recommendations made to the populations by the ministries.

So, All neighboring states (Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire) should put in place specific measures at their borders such as pre-positioning the military forces with detection means and having “containment centers” ready in case of outbreak within their boundaries.

Perspectives:

1/ African countries should in the future take full responsibility for organizing their own response to any disease and protect their populations. Further, a mobilization strategy, combining prevention and treatment should be defined and implemented.

2/ The African Union should before the end of the year, organize a summit in order to foster research and mobilizing resources (human and financial) for diseases such as Ebola which  concern the African continent (malaria etc.). This summit will foster the research for cures.

3/ The lack of a comprehensive regional strategy (common health and security measures) to fight Ebola might cause its propagation to other countries in the region for the coming months. So a comprehensive and coherent regional strategy from ECOWAS is needed urgently based on a technical and financial resource mobilization.

4/ Each African state should develop in the future, a national plan against Ebola and other “African” diseases (malaria etc.) in order to prevent those diseases and also to fight their propagation. Effective anticipation and preparation for all sorts of crises still prevails when it comes to facing major diseases and epidemics.

5/ International organizations such the IMF and the World Bank should require during negotiations with African states, the formulation and implementation of comprehensive national plans to research and fight “African” diseases such as Ebola, Sickle Cell  and Malaria.

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