African Countries Urged to Learn from 2014 Ebola Outbreak to Curb COVID-19

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Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Nigerian Finance Minister and EJS Center board member, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have recommended to African countries to learn from the Ebola outbreak in 2014 in three West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to see how they can devise mitigating strategies to curb the COVID-19 Pandemic.  The two African top officials made the observation when they took part in an online event hosted by the London School of Economics (LSE) to discuss Africa’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

They were joined by LSE Director Minouche Shafik, International Growth Centre (IGC) Director and Oxford University Professor Paul Collier, and Executive Director of the IGC Dr. Jonathan Leape. Entitled Global Leadership to Support Africa’s Response to COVID-19, the discussion was part of the #LSECOVID19 online events series, aimed at understanding the impact of the pandemic around the world.

This session asked how African countries can best respond to the virus and the collapse of global trade, and Madam Sirleaf and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both spoke about the lessons that had been learned from the Ebola crisis, and shed light on the challenges and opportunities at play when managing the fallout from a pandemic.

Madam Sirleaf said that in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 and deal with the eventualities of the crisis, good leadership and reliable data are key: “We need to be engaged and show exemplary leadership at all levels – political leadership, technical leadership, to be able to guide the action that will be taken to fight the virus.”

“We also need reliable and, if possible, informed data and information – if we don’t have that, then we don’t know how to develop the responses and whatever action that can be taken to ensure we get the desired result and effect.”

Liberia is facing the pandemic but with health records casting a bleak picture of health authority’s credibility in providing information about management of cases.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who was recently appointed Special Envoy for the African Union on COVID-19, spoke about how previous crises prepared health systems in West Africa for the current pandemic:

“In Nigeria, we had contact tracing when Ebola happened, we used the system that we had built up for polio to help with Ebola tracing, and that limited the number of contacts as well as the number of deaths – considerably.”

She also called for African governments to look more widely at the issue of social housing to protect against future pandemics: “We have to deal with the issue of overcrowding in some of our cities and introducing affordable housing.”

“We can house these people who are crowded together, and we can do it in a climate-friendly and green way. As we recover from this crisis, we have to build back better.”

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