Imperialism and the Ebola epidemic

Despite the international media attention focused on the latest and most widespread Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, there are contradictory reports on whether the three most severely impacted countries have met the treatment goals established by the World Health Organization and other agencies.

Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have borne the brunt of EBV’s latest outbreak. Varying reports have placed the number of deaths there between 5,900 and 7,000. Although the World Health Organization stated on Nov. 30 there were 6,928 fatalities, by Dec. 1 this figure was revised to 5,987.

Problems associated with data collection and tabulations are symptomatic of the response to the regional crisis. The three countries most severely impacted by EVD are seeking to overcome decades of political instability, civil war and military interventions. These grew out of the fragile postcolonial transitional processes that extended imperialist rule indirectly through transnational corporations and industrialized Western capitalist states.

Mark Doyle, a British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent in Sierra Leone, commented Dec. 1, “Whenever you read any Ebola statistic, take it with a bucket load of salt. The U.N. response mission and the World Health Organization base many of their stats on a hotchpotch of numbers from national health ministries, aid organizations and sketchy information their own officials can ­correlate.”

However, Doyle says, “[D]on’t expect the numbers to add up every time. Foreign aid workers and journalists want things to be neat. Around here they are not. We do know one thing for certain. The number of dead is definitely an underestimate.”

Nonetheless in the same article, Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of WHO’s Ebola response, was more positive. “We now believe that two of the three countries — Liberia and Guinea — are currently treating more than 70 percent of the reported cases and in Sierra Leone they’re probably achieving that in most of the country.”

Dr. Aylward added, “In all three countries it’s clear now that more than 70 percent of the Ebola deaths that we know about are buried safely. And this is because in the past 60 days, the number of safe burial teams has more than doubled.”

The U.N. Ebola Response offices in Ghana still sounds the alarm, saying there must be an increased focus on the eradication of all EVD cases. Anthony Banbury, who directs the U.N. program in Accra, told the BBC, “[T]here is a huge risk to the world that Ebola will spread. … [T]hat is why it is so important to get down to zero cases as quickly as possible.”

The U.N. Mission headed by Banbury reported during the last week in November that it would not meet the objectives previously set for Dec. 1 in its campaign to stop the outbreak in the region.

Sierra Leone faces greater challenges

The situation in Sierra Leone is the most acute. There are breakdowns in response networks even though there is a significant presence of British and U.S. troops in the country. Despite the deployment of these soldiers, relief efforts are coming under extreme criticism in Sierra Leone. It had been announced that a 100-bed hospital would be operational there, but it willl not be functional until early 2015.

London is supervising the facility through the charitable agency Save the Children and the government’s Department for International Development. It has treated just 44 people, with only 14 of its 80 beds occupied. Located at Kerry Town, an hour’s drive from the capital of Freetown, the field hospital has been the focus of Britain’s efforts to help provide treatment facilities for people living in one of the outbreak’s epicenters.

The operation has been open for a month and is being staffed by British, Cuban and Sierra Leonean physicians and other health care professionals. Project administrators from England say they lack the experience of groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, the French-based organization, and they attribute delays to this factor.

Charles Mambu, director of the Health for All Coalition in Sierra Leone, comments, “It’s very, very, very slow. Our only hope was in Kerry Town. Why isn’t it fully occupied? We are not happy with what’s happening here. We call on our former colonial masters — you have to do more.” (BBC, Nov. 30)

RT television news reported on Nov. 5, “The facility includes a new blood testing laboratory. On site, there is a small separate clinic run by the U.K. Ministry of Defense to treat Sierra Leonean and international health workers if they become infected with Ebola.”

In the same report, Rob MacGillivary, Save the Children’s director in Sierra Leone, stated, “We hope that offering a separate wing for staff treatment will restore the confidence of health workers previously reluctant to join the fight against Ebola — particularly when thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical staff are still desperately needed in the region to help save lives and prevent the disease from gaining any more ground.”

French president visits Senegal & Guinea

French President Francois Hollande visited Senegal and Guinea on Nov. 28, seeking to deflect Paris’ critics who say the former colonial government is far behind its allies, the U.S. and Britain, in Liberia and Sierre Leone, in providing assistance to Conakry.

Reuters reported of Hollande’s visit that France “has agreed to set up a military hospital in the country to help fight the outbreak and has pledged 100 million euros ($125 million) in financial assistance for the Ebola effort.”

The Nov. 28 article quoted Holland, “France wants to set an example. Beyond material help, it is human help which is the most important.” He said he had traveled to the region to “deliver a message of hope.”

Clearly, the fact that imperialism fosters underdevelopment and dependency in the states and regions it occupies does not mean that this policy has ceased under neocolonialism. France has troops stationed in many of its previous colonial territories, and its military interventions have accelerated in recent years in the Central African Republic, Mali, Gabon, Niger and other states.

The fight against Ebola is a struggle
to end imperialism

The impact of the most widespread EVD outbreak in history is clearly related to the legacy of Western dominance over Africa’s internal affairs. Furthermore, due to the social dislocation caused by the disease, there is a burgeoning food deficit in the most affected states.

Havana-based Granma International reported on Nov. 7, “The three countries most impacted by the epidemic are among the world’s poorest, and prices of agricultural products have sky-rocketed, since farmers and agricultural workers are abandoning the area. … While it is now necessary to direct international funds toward controlling and eradicating Ebola in West Africa, thought must be given to solving long-standing problems in the most affected countries.”

These problems cannot be solved under current capitalist relations of production, trade and divisions of economic power. Africa must take control of its mineral resources and agricultural commodities so that the profits from the sales of these valuable assets will be utilized for the benefit of the majority of the people — and not the transnational corporations and their agents in the global neocolonialist system.