RIGHTSView: Africa and ‘Ebola Diplomacy’

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 4 October 2014 | 3,536 times

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The West African coast is witnessing one of the most serious health challenges in human history. Something similar to the great plague of 1665-1666 suffered by the Western European colonial adventurists in the early days of their expeditions in search of cheap labourers: by way of capturing and/or buying of slaves and raw materials for their home industries; before the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference where the colonial warlords sat over the partitioning of the then conquered African territories among themselves.

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which was first noticed in 1976 in the then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, has resurfaced since April 2014 in three West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This has led to the death of   almost 2,000 persons have died from its affliction. So far, there is no cure nor humanly tested and approved vaccine to tackle this grave threat to the survival of humanity and, especially, Africans who live in poor neighbourhoods without sufficient and/or quality healthcare facilities and adequate health workers.

From Liberia, Patrick Sawyer who, until his demise in Lagos, was a senior diplomatic staff of the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately brought Ebola Virus Disease to Nigeria. And, as the index case, he afflicted over 20  persons; made up of those medical workers who attended to him in the private clinic he was rushed to in Lagos, when he fainted of the then undetermined ill health, on arrival at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

But for the vigilance of some of the deceased Nigerian doctors and nurses, this evil man would have inflicted unimaginable damage to the health of Nigerians, who are also undergoing serious challenge of lack of good and functional health care facilities across the large country of over 170 million people.

It will be recalled that West African Health infrastructure is in such a dilapidated state that the arrival of the Ebola Virus Disease, which requires intensive care for sufferers to have a fighting chance of surviving, meant virtually death sentence for much of the poor populations in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Liberia, for instance, has run out of bed spaces for Ebola patients to such a cruel extent that families started abandoning their loved ones with suspected cases of EVD at the middle of deserted roads, to die in installment. It got so bad that in Monrovia, the nation’s political leaders instructed the armed soldiers to quarantine a poor neighbourhood of over 50,000 residents when it was found out that some hoodlums from that restive and very dejected community robbed and dispossessed some Ebola patients of their beddings and personal effects, which are contaminated and seen as likely avenues for rapid transmission to the larger populations. So the quarantined patients were virtually left without basic foodstuffs and other necessities of life, even as soldiers stood guard and made sure that escapees are flogged into line.

Nigeria that unfortunately became afflicted with the EVD, courtesy of the late Liberian official Mr Sawyer, battled tooth and nail to control and contain the EVD from afflicting her very large population. The Nigerian government, which is fully aware of the bad state of health infrastructure, quickly released the sum of N1 billion to the Federal Ministry of Health to set up Emergency Response/Treatment centres across the country. The Federal Government declared a state of health emergency over the disease that arrived through Sawyer, who has been described by the Nigerian President as a crazy Liberian.

The Nigerian Government had initially appealed to the international community for assistance to tackle the EVD affliction, especially in the area of technical and medical assistance. But her effort to get the only potentially efficient vaccine against the disease developed by the United States' Centre for Disease Control,  called ZMAPP, was rebuffed by the United States Government, on the ground that the drugs have been exhausted having been used to treat two American missionaries that got the EVD while working in Liberia.

But two major decisions taken by China and Cuba – two international competitors of America in the pursuit of regional presence in Africa – towards ameliorating the untold hardship faced by West African Ebola patients, completely changed the dynamics of the United States’ active involvement in tackling the health challenges posed to some of the West African countries by EVD.

Apparently rattled by the quick thinking of both China and Cuba, to send relief materials and medical workers to the most affected West African countries to tackle the EVD pandemics, President Barack Obama took his time to make a nationwide broadcast whereupon he branded EVD as one of the worst national security threats, which should receive the comprehensive attention of his government.

But those who should know are aware that if the USA had neglected West Africa in these perilous times, and allowed China and Cuba have free reign around the sub-region, then it is safe to say that China and Cuba would be better perceived as good and caring friends of the African people than the super power, United States of America, which, ironically, is now ruled by the first-ever African American president, whose father hails from the East African country of Kenya. Yet, Kenya had come under the radar of the World Health Organisation (WHO), as one country that is imminently threatened by possible spread of EVD, because it is the regional hub for both international and West African travellers.  

The Ebola virus disease diplomacy has, indeed, entered frenetic stage with the entry of the United States to make her presence felt in the three worst affected countries, whereby EVD has killed several thousands of people.

The world football governing body, FIFA, had similarly stepped in to assist Liberia by donating several hospital equipment, and to convert the Monrovia National Stadium into a collapsible hospital, where EVD patients who, in their thousands can’t access any bed space to treat their ailments, can now be attended to as a matter of international emergency. So, we can say that the Ebola diplomacy has even penetrated the global game of football perceived as the most lucrative sports in the world now. The involvement of FIFA in the battle against EVD has also won them admirers and attention has slightly been shifted from the cases of corruption involving some of their officials in the just concluded Brazil 2014 World Cup. There is a world of difference between the Ebola virus disease diplomacy and the defunct Cold War that raged between the then Soviet Union and the United States of America. Because now, all the parties involved have not tried to out-manoeuvre each other to gain any advantage by way of trade exchanges between these assistance-rendering countries and the recipients in West Africa. 

In the White House, after what the Cable News Network (CNN) called an in-person briefing from the staff at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, President Barack Obama reportedly announced a ‘major increase’ in the US’ response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“The United States will send troops, material to build field hospitals, additional health care workers, community care kits, and badly needed medical supplies,” he gladly announced.

CNN recalled that countless taxis filled with families worried they've become infected with Ebola currently crisscross Monrovia, the Liberian capital, in search of help.

They scour the Liberian capital, but not one clinic can take them in for treatment.

“Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia,” said Margaret Chan, the World Health Organisation’s director-general, adding: “As soon as a new Ebola treatment facility is opened, it immediately fills to overflowing with patients.”

Hospitals and clinics in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the countries hit hardest by the outbreak – are overwhelmed by what WHO calls the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

The US intervention may have also been fast-tracked by increasing criticisms that it has not done much to help these West African nations, especially Liberia afflicted by EVD. The virus has killed at least 2,400 people, and thousands more are infected. For instance, the World Health Organisation has consistently warned of severe affliction on a global scale, should the super powers fail to assist.

“The number of new cases is increasing exponentially,” the WHO noted, calling the situation a “dire emergency with ... unprecedented dimensions of human suffering.”

The US President painted a poetic and graphic picture of the huge challenge that EVD has caused these African nations, and stated:

“Men and women and children are just sitting, waiting to die right now. This is a daunting task, but here’s what gives us hope. The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science. We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it. We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.

“We can’t dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can, given that it has already broken out in ways that we have not seen before.”

The CDC already has hundreds of professionals on the ground in what the President described as the “largest international response in the history of the CDC.”

Gen. Darry Williams, Commander of the US Army Africa, is in Liberia already. From there, he will coordinate the military’s efforts to improve logistics, build additional field hospitals and create what the President called an “air bridge”, to bring in additional supplies and health care workers. The effort will be called Operation United Assistance.

The new treatment centres may house up to 1,700 additional beds. American military personnel in the region could increase by 3,000, administration officials told the CNN.

The US will also create a new training facility to help prepare more thousands of health care workers, to handle patients. The US medics will train up to 500 health care workers per week to identify and care for people with Ebola.

The United States Aid for International Development (USAID) will give 400,000 treatment kits with sanitisers and other protective items like gloves to families, to help them protect their own safety as they care for sick relatives.

Obama also called on the US Congress to approve additional funding, which his administration requested, to carry on these critical efforts to stop the virus.

Obama added: “Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to the United States to lead international efforts to combat the virus,” adding that the US is ready to take on that leadership role.

“Here’s the hard truth. In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It’s spiraling out of control. If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political, economic and security implications for all of us.”

Washington has already committed more than $100 million to combat Ebola, according to USAID.

According to recent international media reports, USAID had said it would spend $75 million to build treatment facilities and supply them with medical equipment; while the Pentagon promised to shift $500 million, of not yet obligated funds, towards the Ebola effort.

President Obama further raised the ante in the Ebola diplomacy in West Africa, when he stated: “This is a global threat, and demands a global response. The international community needs to move faster.”

The World Health Organisation recently announced that China dispatched a mobile laboratory team to Sierra Leone, to help test for the virus. The team of 59 from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control include epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses. This team will join 115 Chinese medical staff already in Sierra Leone.

The British Broadcasting Corporation equally announced that Cuba is sending 165 health workers to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

According to officials, doctors, nurses and infection control specialists will travel to Sierra Leone in October and stay for six months.

The announcement came as the World Health Organisation reported that new cases in West Africa are increasing faster than the capacity to manage by professionals.

The arrival of EVD has, indeed, opened another diplomatic channel for some of the  superpowers and competitors for African raw materials to try their hands at winning hearts and minds of Africans. While not dismissing these magnanimities, yours truly is of the view, based on empirical evidence, that African leaders and the elite should stop stealing the wealth of their respective nations; but to use the enormous wealth they have cornered to their offshore accounts towards developing medical research and health infrastructure, so Africa does not continue to remain the weeping child of the international community that will always go cap in hand begging for assistance at the occurrence of every small natural or man-made disasters.

Africans must consolidate the legal frameworks to battle corruption and defeat corruption, and institutionalise transparency and accountability in the administration of public wealth before the continent can stop depending on outside assistance to tackle her internal problems, such as the EVD. African wealth should remain in Africa to help build a better and prosperous, peaceful and healthy continent, which can proudly be identified as good members of the human race.

RIGHTSVIEW appears twice a week on Wednesday and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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