February 5, 2015 By Zainab Tunkara Clarkson
As West Africa starts to see the end of the Ebola epidemic, we must initiate a Marshall Plan that will see the beginning of fundamental socio-economic development.
It appears that we are eventually winning the war against the dreaded Ebola virus disease (EVD) as the number of casualties from the pandemic is finally on the decrease. After about 8,921 unfortunate deaths, governments and aid agencies are now giving a timeline about when they might reach zero cases.
Given the rapidity with which casualties are falling, they are saying that it could be a few months time before the world is declared Ebola-free. As we speak, there are just a handful of cases now left in Liberia, while Sierra Leone only has 70 confirmed cases.
According to the World Health Organisation (Who), only half the cases in Liberia and Guinea came from known EVD contacts, which suggests that hidden cases are causing the recent outbreaks. Across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three most affected countries, states of emergency and quarantine restrictions are being lifted, amid hopes that life will soon return to normal.
Brice de la Vigne, the director of operations at Medecins sans Frontieres, which translates to Doctors Without Borders, said: “A single new case is enough to reignite an outbreak. Until everyone who has come into contact with Ebola is identified, we cannot rest easy.”
Oxfam for its part is calling for a massive post-Ebola Marshall Plan, while Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, has asked the world’s wealthier nations to step up to the plate and support poor countries’ fragile health care systems.
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have never had well-functioning health systems and have always had some of the lowest ratio of healthcare workers to patients in the world. Liberia for instance had just one doctor for every 100,000 people in 2013, while Sierra Leone had two per 100,000 people and there are no statistics for Guinea at all.
Ebola destroyed what little healthcare delivery systems they had, taking the lives of 488 health workers and leaving people too terrified to go through the doors of clinics they saw as harbourers of the disease. Children were not vaccinated against other critical diseases and centres distributing anti-retroviral drugs to people living with HIV were closed.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned the world is ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future, deadly pandemics like this Ebola outbreak, and called upon governments, corporations, donors and aid agencies to work together to build stronger health systems.
Now that the worst of Ebola is over, it is time to address the underlying causes of broken health systems, the need for sanitation, and the lack of a reliable water supply, which damages health, makes food more scarce and good hygiene impossible. It is time to use this opportunity to build on the ruins and get these three nations off their knees. In the case of Sierra Leone, the country has lost nearly 150 healthcare workers, 12 of its doctors to Ebola, representing 10% of its medical workforce.
At the start of 2014, Sierra Leone’s gross domestic product was growing at high rate of 14%, one of the highest in Africa but now, it is estimated to be no more than 4%. The Ebola virus negatively impacting not only our health and social systems but our economy, sharp declines in domestic food production, mining activities, cross border trade, transport services and hospitality. We need an economic blueprint to get markets open, restore transportation links, get farmers’ cooperatives functioning again and get our borders re-opened to get trans-national trading functional again.
Our schools are due to re-open next month and the education ministry needs to come up with a way to allow pupils make up for lost time as well as make allowances for all those orphans who need to be educated. Thousands of children now face a bleak future because they no longer have parents to send them to school, so a free education programme needs to be added to the curriculum.
In Sierra Leone, we have our work cut out as building and improving basic infrastructure in communities and healthcare systems makes for healthier people and healthier economies and it requires political action and leadership, as well as financing hence international commitments are needed for the long haul. Even in ruins there is supposed to be architecture, so we shall be striving to build from the ashes of Ebola and use it as a platform upon which to build a healthier, more prosperous and more developed Sierra Leone.
Zainab Tunkara Clarkson is a Board Member of Teach For Sierra Leone. She is the Children and Gender Editor and Marketing Director of Voices from the Diaspora Radio Network.