Fund the emergency response for Ebola

Although the uproar over Ebola in the American news media seems to have been replaced by discussion over midterm elections, sensational magazine covers, and concerns over foreign policy, there is still much work to be done to prevent the effects of an unchecked epidemic from reaching American shores.  This has nothing to do with imposing travel restrictions on visitors to the United States or mandatory quarantines on inbound healthcare professionals.  Instead, it has to do with the willingness of Congress to provide meaningful support to prevent fragile states at the epicenter of this healthcare crisis from becoming even weaker. 

The widely accepted definition of a fragile state is a less economically developed country that, among other characteristics, is unable to provide reasonable public services.  In the countries where this epidemic is still front-page news—Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone—public health resources are overtaxed, inadequate, and in many cases nonexistent.  Moreover, the response of those governments has been sluggish, ill coordinated, and at times, self-serving; the New York Times reported that shipping containers full of supplies paid for by money raised by concerned Sierra Leoneans abroad sat idly at the port for months — while their countrymen continued to fall sick and die of the virus — because government officials there refused to promptly pay shipping fees to release the vital equipment needed to support frontline healthcare workers fighting the spread of the virus. 

{mosads}Unfortunately, the sluggish and poorly coordinated international response since the first case of Ebola virus was reported to the World Health Organization in March of 2014 has also complicated treatment and outreach efforts to halt the spread of the virus.  The situation has only gotten worse.  On September 14th, the United Nations Security Council declared Ebola to be a “threat to international peace and security.”  More recently, Ms. Bisa Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs for the U.S. Department of State, told Congress, that “this epidemic has stretched existing health care systems to the breaking point” and poses a “potential global security crisis.” If action is not taken, the World Health Organization estimates that cases could rise to a level of 10,000 per month—a level that, according to head of the UN Ebola Emergency Response Mission Anthony Banbury, represents “an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan.”   

Ebola, if left unchecked in these countries, will collapse healthcare systems and create a human catastrophe so profound that economic development will reverse, and the social contract between citizens and their government will be irreparably breached. 

However, all is not lost.  The United States has the opportunity to lead the way at the intersection of foreign policy and global health, and support the effort to contain and stop the ugly march of Ebola at its source.  President Obama requested an additional $6.18B in emergency funding to support domestic preparedness and international efforts to combat this crisis and leave in place the training and infrastructure to be better prepared to fight the next.  This request has been bogged down and is still awaiting action.  

The march of the disease will not pause to await the resolution of partisan bickering; more than 5,000 people have died from the virus, and in Sierra Leone’s capital, healthcare workers are identifying 100 new cases each week.  Though there are signs of progress in the most affected countries, continued coordination and support from the international community is required to sustain this progress, transfer knowledge, and support health care infrastructure put in place to reverse the progress of this disease.   

The most affected countries in this crisis have struggled to move forward after decades of political instability and civil war, and are now faced with another challenge with the potential to tear apart the social fabric and economic development of these countries.  Congress must set aside partisan politics to expeditiously move this request forward, or risk being on the wrong side of history. 

Fischbein is a former U.S. Navy officer and is a fellow with the Truman National Security Project.


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