In the News: Ebola, Western Interventions, and Local Agency

posted by Bangirana Albert Billy

Yet another unique and analytical contribution to the vexing Ebola crisis question. Gregg Gonsalves in “Why rushing off to fight Ebola in West Africa isn’t the right choice” highlights the entrenched complexities commonly ignored but yet critical gaps in the current response to the Ebola epidemic. Quoting the Nigerian writer Teju Cole (2012), Gregg affirms that there are more complex and wide spread problems – both intricate and intensely local that undergird the origins of the epidemic. The solution he argues lies in the commonly ignored notion of local agency. Obliterating the latter and reinforcing “a narrative of African helplessness” could continue to compromise the cause to avert the epidemic.

In the News: “Militarizing Global Health”

posted by Carrie Reiling

When the United States sent army advisors to Liberia to construct clinics in the fight against Ebola in the region, some worried that the deployment was a military overreach for an event that was essentially not a security threat. Others pointed out, however, that the military is the best-resourced organization the United States has to rapidly deploy and operate in response to humanitarian needs globally and that the quickly spreading virus necessitated the military’s involvement.

Alex de Waal, in a Boston Review article titled “Militarizing Global Health,” brings together these two arguments in a critique of how and why the U.S. military developed the country’s best capacity to handle what are essentially non-security events like global health crises. He notes that not only is the military not as effective at addressing public health needs as are civilian programs, but also that using “the language of warfare risks turning infected people and their caretakers into objects of fear and stigma.”

Institutions and Interventions: Putting Ebola in Context

by China Scherz

Media accounts of the current Ebola epidemic often cite culture as a key factor causing the virus to spread. Since the summer, images of funeral practices, bush meat consumption, and villagers fearful of biomedicine have filled the pages of our newspapers. While a nuanced understanding of culture can be helpful in crafting more culturally sensitive interventions, to focus on an understanding of “context” in which “they” are the ones with culture can also serve to racialize and naturalize Ebola. In this vision Ebola becomes attached to a racialized African body and to a set of cultural practices that are seen as highly unlikely to change. As in Charles Briggs’s writings on the Venezuelan cholera epidemic in the early 1990s, such narratives can easily justify the abandonment of the populations depicted as the irrational actors who can be blamed for the epidemic’s spread (Briggs 2001).

This is not to say that culture has not contributed to Ebola’s spread—rather it is a different set of cultural beliefs and practices that we need to consider if we want to understand why this epidemic has spread so quickly, why the medical systems of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea were so profoundly unprepared, and where the vulnerabilities in the American health care system may lie. Understanding the tragic spread of this disease is less a matter of teasing out the cultural logics of funeral rituals than it is a matter of drawing out the beliefs and norms that have shaped the market based development policies that have left Continue reading

In the News: Ebola, the role of NGOs, and Western Media

posted by Tanya Schwarz

Last month, the Independent shared Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s letter calling for the international community to act on the Ebola outbreak. She said:

The time for talking or theorizing is over. Only concerted action will save my country, and our neighbours, from experiencing another national tragedy.

Yet, some have called into question the role of international NGOs and the Sirleaf administration in the crisis. Sisonke Msimang, in “‘There is no Ebola here': What Liberia teaches us about the failures of aid” for Africa is a Country:

Ebola has certainly foregrounded the reality of Liberia’s non-existent health system but the failure of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government to contain Ebola is emblematic of much larger problems of governance, leadership and trust…..

The Ebola crisis in Liberia has also shone a spotlight on the faults of the international development system that has propped up Sirleaf’s political leadership.  In many ways, one could argue that Ebola serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring cronyism in countries where a government that is friendly to Western governments is in place. Liberia is one of the most dependent countries on Earth: 73% of its gross national income comes from aid agencies and Monrovia, its capital city, is crawling with aid agencies.  There are literally hundreds of international NGOs with offices in the city, and in addition to the 800 million the country receives in foreign assistance each year, the UN spends an additional $500 million annually on maintaining a peacekeeping force.

So one might have expected that the easiest place to contain Ebola would have been Liberia.  There are already 7500 UN troops on the ground who would be able to mount the kind of logistical effort necessary to reach homes and communities with chlorine bleach, to transport the sick and to ensure stability should panic spark violence.  The reality has been the opposite.  From day one, the handling of the Ebola outbreak has been a study in the dysfunction of the aid system.

Continue reading

In the News: Ebola and the African Union

posted by Bangirana Albert Billy

With now over six months since the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, critics are beginning to question Africa’s commitment in responding to this looming catastrophe. The outbreak of Ebola has again revealed the ugly dents within the African Union block. Liesl Louw-Vaudran in the article “Africa: The AU’s Ebola Mission – It’s Not All About the Money,” published in allAfrica, critiques the AU for the ‘too little, too late’ approach to the epidemic. Little resources allocation and continuous rhetoric has marred the AU’s counter-Ebola strategy. The article “African Union wants entire continent to fight Ebola”, published in CCTV America, reports on the AU call on member states to join the fight against Ebola in view of preventing possibilities for a widespread epidemic. In the article “Africa Union meets to discuss continent-wide Ebola strategy” published in Business Day Live, Dr Nkosazana Zuma – current AU Chairperson – reiterates the need for a collective responsibility in ensuring that Ebola doesn’t spread to the rest of the continent. Bruce Wiah, in his article for The New Dawn, “Liberia: AU stresses coordination in Ebola Fight” emphasizes the need to coordinate resources towards areas most affected by the epidemic – an approach that is yet to be fully realised by the AU member countries. It’s therefore evident that more still needs to be done as the African Union committee “Africa Union Support to Ebola outbreak in West Africa”ASEOWA recommits to a united, comprehensive and collective response to the epidemic. The question remains whether this will involve commitment of robust financial and professional resources to this critical cause.