MESSENGERS OF PEACE, Dialogue among Peace Messengers: Ebola Politics

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In all medical emergency situations, like the bird flu, SARS and Ebola, politics, fear, emotions and short-term thinking have guided us.

For Liberia, politics guided the initial slow response when the index case was first reported in Foya, Lofa County.

Almost a year into the Ebola epidemic, we should be thinking of sustainability and the long term; but the fight against Ebola has been largely overshadowed by politics.

Nowhere has this pattern been clearer than in the allocation of resources of the prevention and control of Ebola virus disease. If you’ll recall, it started with a couple of thousands of dollars and rose up to a billion dollars in commitment from both national government and international partners. Compare this to the over seven and half billion spent in the unsuccessful eradication of poppy plant in Afghanistan or to the billions spent across the world for the control of SARS, Cholera, and bubonic plague.

The Ebola politics clearly reminds us of our colonial past in Africa with America, Britain and France engage in built-up competition on where to provide support and who would be the first to turn the curb in the fight against Ebola. We need not sideline China in the scheme of things. According to Howard Markel, who teaches history of medicine at the University of Michigan, “Ebola is jerking us back to the 19th century”.

The closure of border, travel bans, and travel restrictions are all politically motivated. Almost 50 countries including 28 African countries have instituted travel restrictions for passengers from Ebola affected countries. Augmenting the implementation of International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 would be critical at this point.

Despite confirmation of the first EVD case, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta announced on 24 October that borders would remain open with Guinea. This is the kind of Ebola politics that other African leaders need to emulate.

Liberians are exhausted, frustrated and unhappy with aspects of government’s handling of the Ebola crisis. The closure of schools, isolation of persons from Liberia and stigma and the discrimination are political. Our inability to locate the index case in Guinea is political.

To reduce the scale of this epidemic, Ebola politics should be redirected to provide both “isolation and dedicated supportive care to the infected and contacts, not the countries still struggling with the technical know-how of an imported disease. America’s response is the first by any government on a large scale and this should be commended.

In the long run, Ebola politics would require a rewrite of the education and health policy as well as their respective curriculum. Now that schools are closed for almost a semester with no end in sight, there would be need to redirect our politics to alter the school calendar and explore creative ways to engage children and young people in the fight against Ebola.

We need a refreshing approach of pace in the war against Ebola. It is the views of MOP-Liberia that Ebola politics focus on the best interest of the nation’s health care providers, who are at the frontlines and who deserve our recognition and the support of the International community (Friends of Liberia) that provide troops, medical supplies, health workers and much needed medications to prevent and control the continuous spread of EVD.

The message is a simple one. Ebola epidemic is not a political game and should not be used as one. Every facet of the response has to come together. Solidarity and support for the affected countries will be needed to contain this pandemic. We need the likes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has committed over 2,000 staff in the affected countries to fight Ebola. Some forms of coordinated interventions, not politics, are imperative.

Like every Liberian, I look forward to the day that this column would write a piece on “clamp down on Ebola”. The war on Ebola would be won and faith in the survival of the human race would be restored.

Until next week, when we come to you with another article on: “Issues of Ebola Stigma and Discrimination”, Peace First, Peace above all else, May Peace prevail on earth.

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