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The Ebola crisis

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Ebola keeps marching on! 6,500 infected and over 3,000 dead so far. According to experts, this Ebola outbreak has the potential to become a pandemic (an infectious disease that affects multiple continents). As usual, while the cradle of this disease is West Africa, the most effective action is, by and large, coming from the West. From President Obama to officials of the Center for Disease Control, American officials are responding to this epidemic like it is their own and so are other Western nations.

With their help, possible spread of the disease in Nigeria and Senegal has been contained, largely with aggressive contact-tracing. It is unfortunate that the US and other governments appear more serious and organized about confronting Ebola. One can learn more about Ebola listening to US officials than listening to African officials. At the UN last week, President Mahama and others urged the global community to respond more aggressively. As he rightly said, Ebola is a problem that “belongs to the world”. Unfortunately, the President had little to say about what we have done to fight Ebola ourselves.

An official of the US Centers for Disease Control, Joseph Fair, said that there is a complete “breakdown of healthcare infrastructure” in the affected countries. President Obama also stated that “there is still a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be”. Indeed, this week, the US government is launching, with the global community, a “GLOBAL Health Security Agenda”. While Africa’s response has been slow, it has also been hampered sometimes by political considerations. In Liberia, Johnson Sirleaf’s government is being blamed for an insufficient response. In Sierra Leone, the fact that the Ebola areas have been by co-incidence, strongholds of the opposition has been exploited by some for politics.

Even in Ghana, while the President was sounding the alarm to the global community, some of his officials, with their eyes on politics were claiming that the government was ready for an Ebola outbreak. According to a Citi Fm report on 31st July, the Health Sector Minister Dr. Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah, asserted that the government was ready and claimed that “epidemiological and lab services are already in place”. He further said that “we have activated a system for screening all passengers, especially from countries that have recorded cases.”

This was while US officials were admitting that screening every traveler is well-nigh impossible. The truth is that expecting governments that have trouble controlling Cholera to control Ebola is unrealistic and we must admit the nature of the task and work together. There must be no politics in tackling this gargantuan crisis.

We must commend the President for his UN remarks on Ebola and for accepting to make Accra the hub of both the UN and US efforts. However, words are not enough. We cannot hope that outsiders will solve this crisis for us. As the saying goes, “When you see your neighbour’s beard on fire, you must put water beside your own beard”. I DO NOT SEE THE WATER BESIDE OUR BEARD!!

There are important questions we must ask ourselves:

If Ebola arrived in Ghana tomorrow, how many Ebola treatment Units (ETU’s) would we need and where would they be?

How many contact tracers would we need?

How many diagnostic kits do we have?

How many Personal Protective Equipments do we need?

What public education strategy is in place—to educate the public about Ebola, how to avoid exposure to the disease, how to bury the dead safely and the advantages of sending affected relatives to the treatment centers?

These are questions that should be discussed by Parliament, with input from stakeholders, including the Ghana Medical Association, the Hospitals and opinion leaders.

In this matter, there must be no politics.

Let us move forward—together against Ebola.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina