Ebola Outbreak: The devastating effects of the demedicalization of international aid

Webinar on Ebola Outbreak: The devastating effects of the demedicalization of international aid was held on December 3, 2014. The outline of the webinar is as explained below.

Although many Governments and humanitarian agencies have been surprised by the magnitude and the severity of the Ebola outbreak that has been striking Western Africa since March 2014, the lack of international response was unfortunately easier to predict. Despite the mobilization of few organizations to try to fight the epidemic that has killed some 5.000 people, following a lightning contamination trend (multiplication of cases every month by 2.5) and a consecutive collapse of the healthcare system in the affected countries, Peter Maurer, the President of the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC), was recently deploring that “the aid arriving in the field is too slow, with insufficient quantity and is not effective enough”. Some are trying to explain this deficit of intervention by the tardiness of the international community’s financial mobilization, others argue that the largest international aid agencies were overwhelmed with other major crises when the outbreak was confirmed in Guinea, others again would incriminate the lack of reactivity from the World Health Organization (WHO) despite the repeated warnings from the organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) that is in the first line response since the start of the outbreak. Finally, some are highlighting the extremely high level of exposure to the risk of contamination faced by the healthcare workers who are engaged in the combat against the virus, of which more than 300 have been killed since last March .

Although all those elements could indeed explain the deficit of the international assistance to the Ebola victims, it does not bring a complete understanding of the failure. For several months, Doctors Without Borders has been alerting the public opinion – usually more receptive to an outbreak than an armed conflict – on the lack of medical response in Guinea, in Sierra Leone and above all in Liberia, leading to them sometimes being forced to refuse new contaminated cases in some of the six Ebola Treatment Centers (ETC) of the organisation. However, it is not the first time the action of this international medical organization is isolated during an acute period of a crisis. MSF was already denouncing the slowness and the lack of impact of the humanitarian response in emergency situation during 2012 and 2013 . Indeed, it appears today that very few international aid actors are able to provide direct medical assistance – i.e. without delegating the job to a third organization – to victims of major crises. Despite the extent of funds raised, many people infected by cholera in Haiti in 2011 or wounded during the Syrian war have not been able to receive appropriate care due to a lack of medical admission capacity. In November 2014, only 22% of the beds planned by the WHO as part of their global response were up and running in the affected regions.

The author proposed to improve the understanding of the causes of this de-medicalization of international aid, observed over the past decade and whose consequences can be devastating in emergency situations through the response of Doctors Without Borders to the Ebola crisis in Western Africa.

Download Presentation Slides