Sept. 29 — A special session at the 69th U.N. General Assembly discussed the spread of the Ebola virus in several West African states on Sept. 25. African Union Commission Chair Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan spoke on the worsening crisis and the need for assistance from the international community to effectively address the burgeoning impact of the disease, which has killed more than 3,100 people since March.
A U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response was initiated. The agency will establish an office in Accra, Ghana, on Sept. 29, which will coordinate relief and assistance programs aimed at the three most-affected states: Sierra Leone, Guinea-Conakry and Liberia.
Ebola cases have been reported in Senegal and Nigeria as well, with both governments saying the outbreak is under control. Ebola is reported to have infected some people in the northern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), although it was claimed that the outbreak there is unrelated to the virus strain that has spread so rapidly in West Africa.
Epidemic could impact millions
The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded the alarm, saying if the outbreak was not seriously addressed, there could be up to 1.4 million cases by early 2015. Despite reports on this Ebola epidemic, the Western industrialized states have not responded rapidly or robustly.
On Sept. 29 the Associated Press wrote: “The needs of the outbreak have continually outstripped projections: WHO says around 1,500 treatment beds have been built or are in the works, but that still leaves a gap of more than 2,100 beds. Between 1,000 and 2,000 international health care workers are needed, and they and local doctors and nurses will require millions of disposable protective suits to stay safe. Thousands of home hygiene kits are also being flown in to help families protect themselves at home.”
Dlamini-Zuma reported on efforts already underway to provide health care professionals and logistical support, recognizing such humanitarian organizations as Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. She noted that an AU Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (AUEOWA) group had been established.
Much more needs to be done to prevent the spread of the virus and to effectively treat the infected thousands. Because of the high mortality rate, support services will be needed for affected families and many children will be orphaned.
Relate medical aid to development
What is obvious about Ebola’s spread is the lack of medical personnel and infrastructure in the impacted states. Liberia and Sierra Leone have undergone civil wars over the last two decades, displacing millions and leaving tremendous social problems, which subsequent governments could not effectively stem.
After breaking with French imperialism between 1958 and 1984 under the Democratic Party led by President Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea fell victim to neocolonialism after its founder’s death; then a military coup placed the country back under Paris and Washington’s domination. Unrest and military coups have hampered the mineral-rich nation from providing resources to build its internal infrastructure.
Dlamini-Zuma told the U.N. that more medical personnel from AUEOWA would be deployed to the three most severely struck states. “This includes medical specialists from countries such as Uganda and the DRC that have dealt with Ebola before. We shall be sending further teams to Sierra Leone and Guinea, but … we need hundreds more volunteers.” (AU Statement on Ebola Crisis, Sept. 25)
Moreover, Dlamini-Zuma stressed that the immediate crisis must be approached with the objectives of developing African health care systems and research institutions. Treatment methods and identifying trends of disease transmissions are essential in the fight to eradicate the outbreak.
“The Global Coalition to be launched today must look at all these immediate and urgent issues,” Dlamini-Zuma noted. Moreover, “effective disease control is about having strong public health systems in place, with access to health care for all and institutions at national, regional and continental levels to share information on diseases.”
Granma International reported on Sept. 26 that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the U.N. session on Ebola: “The General Assembly’s unanimous approval of Resolution A/RES/69/1 on September 19 is a clear demonstration of a universal awareness of the need to provide an immediate response to this disaster using all necessary resources.”
Rodriguez explained, This is “to prevent it from becoming a humanitarian crisis with unpredictable consequences for a continent which has been historically ignored and … which presents serious social problems and underdevelopment which have allowed for the emergence and spread of the disease. Human, material and financial resources are required to tackle Ebola, but also to ensure the development of Africa.”
Stop ‘medical apartheid’
In a Sept. 28 Washington Post blog, Karen Attiah said that no African physicians infected with Ebola have been evacuated for treatment to the United States. However, several white medical personnel were immediately sent back to the U.S. for treatment and all have recovered. Attiah stressed that the West African states are already suffering from medical personnel shortages. The deaths and sickness of some leading physicians in Sierra Leone and Liberia are worsening the overall crisis.
“Very recently, Dr. Olivet Buck, a Sierra Leonean doctor, died after the World Health Organization denied a request that she be transported to Germany for treatment,” wrote Attiah. “In July, Dr. Sheik Humaar Khan, an eminent physician who headed up Sierra Leone’s Ebola response, died after negotiations for his evacuation.”
Complaints have already been leveled against Western institutional responses to the crisis. Attiah noted, “The U.S. Agency for International Development came under fire briefly after it was reported that the field hospital it was setting up in Monrovia [Liberia] was intended to treat only foreign workers. The agency now says that the facility will treat health workers of all nationalities.”
Attiah pointed out, “On Sunday [Sept. 28], health officials reported that Liberia’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bernice T. Dahn, has been placed under quarantine after her assistant died from Ebola on Thursday. Sierra Leone officials have criticized the WHO for its sluggishness on decisions to evacuate their country’s infected doctors.”
Attiah called for the rejection of travel bans and other forms of isolation regarding impacted West African states. She noted, “Health workers must be provided with adequate protective gear. We cannot allow ‘medical apartheid’ to characterize the international treatment of the African medical personnel and health workers from Europe or the United States.”
The writer then rightly pointed out, “After all, the African doctors will be the ones to be on the front lines to help their countries against malaria, child mortality, malnutrition and other diseases that threaten African nations but not foreign workers. The African doctors fighting Ebola are heroes, just as much as any foreign volunteers. We cannot leave them behind to die.”
Even the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military response to the outbreak has not yet proven to be effective. A Sept. 29 article reveals, “The American military effort against history’s deadliest Ebola outbreak is taking shape in West Africa, but concerns are mounting that the pace isn’t fast enough to check a virus that is spreading at a terrifying clip.”
The same article states that initial teams are working on airport runways and not supplying medical treatment. They have been cutting down grass for the construction of a field facility. “While this team levels the earth, superiors hash out the still uncertain details of the American intervention here.”
International mobilization required
The problem of the Ebola virus outbreak must be brought to the top of U.S. and other countries’ agendas. Unless organizations concerned about the liberation and sovereignty of the oppressed former colonial states come to the fore with a program of action to address the crisis, the outcome will cause many more deaths.
As with the HIV epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, transnational corporations will attempt to profit from the medical disasters that primarily impact the working class, oppressed and poor people of the world. Supplying protective gear and patents for medications and vaccines will provide pharmaceutical firms with opportunities to reap billions of dollars in sales.
The Ebola crisis must be approached from the perspective that the most impacted countries are those in West Africa, which have been the victims of centuries of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism. The genuine liberation of Africa is essential for eradication of infectious disease and the construction of adequate health care infrastructures in the immediate future.