If Not Now, When? Combating Ebola in West Africa

Photo credit: European Commission DG ECHO

Photo credit: European Commission DG ECHO

By: Hugh James, Accountability Lab, London.

The Lab was recently in attendance at a panel discussion on “The West African Ebola Outbreak: Gaps in Governance and Accountability” at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

In a week when the President of the World Bank, Jim Kim, stated that the global community has failed miserably” in responding to the Ebola crisis and the WHO appealed for £1billion to further combat the crisis, the talk could not have been more relevant.

Panelists included: Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Michael Bertele, Humanitarian Director of Save the Children International; Dr. Yumkella, UN Under Secretary-General; and Robtel Pailey, a Liberian academic, activist and author who is a close associate of the Accountability Lab.

Professor Piot co-discovered the Ebola virus in Zaire in1976, but up until the present strain of the virus emerged, only 1,500 lives had been lost over a thirty-eight year timescale, while over 4,000 have died from the current outbreak. Piot alluded to a ‘perfect storm’ scenario that has facilitated the incubation of the virus in West Africa. A dismissive, slow response enhanced the knowledge gap within communities and between nations.

Robtel Pailey spoke with passion, and personal insight on the crisis. She expressed frustration with the role of the elite in re-building the country and the development vision that they have implemented over the past decade. She articulated a sense of dislocation between citizens and the ruling elite and noted that anger and mistrust symbolizes the lack of accountability between power holders and citizens.

Amongst the numerous questions from the audience following the prepared remarks, two key themes prevailed, potential solutions and post-Ebola needs.

In regards to the first, a consensus emerged that there is a need for greater communication, coordination and logistical operational support on the ground. This will come from coordinating joint responses between NGO’s and Development professionals.

The ‘post Ebola’ scenario is in line with much of the Lab’s work; to build local capacity, promote local initiatives, and uphold trust in state–citizen relations. A move towards a ‘social Ebola audit’, to review official records and report government expenditure, can help further restore the fractured trust between state and citizens. There is no doubt that Ebola has exposed severe governance challenges in West Africa but, reinforcing practices emphasizing accountability, and breeding courage amongst citizens can abet the fight against corrupted practices.

The International response is still labored; the void of command and control on the ground, in unison with the gulf between commitments and cash has fuelled resentment and isolation within communities. Ahead are testing times for the globalized world. Too few have risen to establish a coordinated response to Ebola, with a disproportionate reliance on the work of MSF and Cuba there is risk of fatigue in the face of what the WHO chief says is ‘the most severe acute public-health emergency in modern times’.

About Accountability Lab

Making power-holders accountable in the developing world

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