ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/ebola-le-cri...
by Patrick Le Hyaric
Translated Monday 17 November 2014, by
Patrick Le Hyaric
Ebola: Crime of Poverty and Under-Development
Humanité’s Sunday editorial by Patrick Le Hyaric: The IMF and World Bank’s injunctions threw Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea into endemic poverty. Diseases thrived on those ruins.
Ebola! This name appeared suddenly and now it comes up in each news bulletin, accompanied by images that you would think came straight out of a horror film. Haggard beings roam the streets, sometimes driven away by worried, panicked crowds. On the other hand, medical personnel clothed in full bodysuits risk their lives to save them. Ebola lies heavy on our consciences.
For ten months, this virus has been roaming West Africa’s coastal countries. Ten months of relentless progression in front of the eyes of an astonished international community that defaulted in its role, appearing incredibly blind until the virus reached Western countries. Not until Ebola cases were detected in some of their capitals did they finally become aware of its severity. They had to be reminded again that all human beings live on the same planet. No one will escape untouched! Even more reason to make the scientists’ knowledge available to all; to make health a common concern, since it is, at its simplest, humanity’s well-being. Instead, they are calling for a handful of firms to monopolize drugs and the health sector. Since we allowed ourselves to think this way, Ebola was able to thrive.
Why didn’t we act sooner on February 13, when the United Nations announced the idea “of a world initiative” in order to avoid such catastrophes? The spokespeople at international platforms don’t miss a chance to give solid lessons in development. Yet why do they shift the facts and reduce aid to the poorest countries? During this time, thousands of deaths were counted in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. When the current article was written, nearly 5,000 victims had been tallied, according to official estimates. Double, perhaps, even triple this number is undoubtedly closer to reality and this will quickly become fact with the threat of an exponential progression.
A flutter of panic undoubtedly pushed European institutions and the United States to take action two weeks ago. The European Union has just designated a coordinator with missions that remain very vague, and there is a high level of discord within the EU. The only agreement, for the moment, established one single protocol for the care and evacuation of foreign medical volunteers. This is, in itself, a good thing. But what do you think of the EU protecting its courageous humanitarians, while letting the virus continue to proliferate? For example, in some of the affected countries, France heightened airport controls.
Admittedly, Nigeria and Senegal have contained the epidemic for the time-being. But now Mali has been affected and there is no doubt that other countries will be soon, too, in Africa and elsewhere. Ebola takes no notice of borders or populations. How can you accept that we find enough money in the blink of an eye to start wars, or that financial crises send billions of dollars up in smoke, whereas the European Union, for the moment, has granted only 84 million euros of the 500 million euros it predicted spending? It built only a few hospitals in the country, whereas at least 1 billion euros was immediately necessary. On the other hand, the United States just dispatched a large number of soldiers in the concerned countries, and some people are wondering what its mission will actually be.
This inertia also applies to the World Health Organization on a more serious level. WHO either didn’t see anything coming or minimized the phenomenon month after month. Consequently, it did not take action when the virus was contained in smaller boundaries. However, warning signs escalated as soon as the virus appeared in December 2013. As John Kerry pointed out, only one country set an example: Cuba. This small island was bolstered by its excellent medical diplomacy in the service of developing countries. Also, even though it experienced the harmful effects of the American blockade, it did not wait for a citizen to be affected before jumping to the forefront of the fight against the Ebola virus. It dispatched a large contingent of 165 doctors and health personnel to Sierra Leone at the beginning of October; 296 other personnel are expected this week in Liberia and in Guinea. In the meantime, European countries don’t stop hemming and hawing. Along with other Western countries and the United Nations, they are taking the risk of losing the battle against time, and time is invaluable when an epidemic rages unabated. Their line of reasoning has more to do with the accounting required by finance masters than with giving priority to human beings. Definitely, these tragic events confirm the need to restructure international institutions, obviously including the World Health Organization. They should establish emergency protocols from the initial appearance of symptoms in countries in difficulty.
The European Union, so quick to organize tracking and monitoring migrants, would be well-advised to do something about the distress in African countries regarding epidemics of all kinds. Steps could include releasing funds necessary for a true medical co-operation to unite the local populations and, as for essential development aid, no longer rendering it an empty shell. While the measures to be taken are urgent, many questions also remain unanswered about the epidemic’s causes. What, exactly, is Ebola the name of? Certainly not the umpteenth curse fallen from the sky which Father Le Pen dreamed about when he labeled the virus the odious “Monseigneur Ebola.” A virus which Africans couldn’t do anything about since they were victims of bad luck, undoubtedly related to the color of their skin! A convenient and loathsome means to mask the fact that Ebola is the name of poverty, underdevelopment, and violence from ultra-liberal policies.
Let us recall that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea experienced backlash from the World Bank and IMF’s structural plans in the 80’s and 90’s. Across a few years, their disastrous recommendations were followed to the letter. In exchange for financing such vampiric institutions, these countries had to dismantle all the public services that they were able to build and sell their infrastructures to private companies, the majority of which were associated with their former colonizers. Take Sierra Leone and the current problem for example: 5,000 civil servants in the health sector were fired in three years and the budget for the ministry of health was reduced by a third at the beginning of the 90’s. Today, the medical systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone are crumbling. There are 1 and 2 doctors, respectively, for every 100,000 inhabitants in these two countries, while, in France, it’s 300 doctors for every 100,000 inhabitants. In 2007, they also spent, respectively, $39 and $32 per year and per capita on the health sector (31 and 25.50 euros), while Guinea spent less than $62 (49.50 euros). France, on the other hand, spends nearly $5,000 per year per capita (3,995 euros). Moreover, the decrepit infrastructures, roads in particular, disrupt all emergency services, appearing at the top of the list of obstacles identified by NGO’s. These “adjustments”, to use the pompous neoliberal euphemism, drove these countries into endemic poverty and set the scene for some of the most violent civil wars known on the African continent, combined with structured corruption and very lucrative arms trafficking.
Of course, terrible diseases thrived on those ruins, including malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, many diseases related to soiled water and, from now on, the Ebola virus. These countries, among the poorest and the most fragile on the planet, are going to spend years recovering from the epidemic and its consequences on their economies. Commercial activity is already suffering from the established quarantines and from the ports being closed. The UN estimates that the cost of the epidemic by year-end will be $32.6 billion (26 billion euros), if it is not contained. The African people are going to have an increasingly important place in our shared society. Thus, helping them face these medical challenges is imperative to humanity. It is our duty to prepare our common future together through new means of cooperation by encouraging the development of infrastructures for sanitation, transportation, and public services. The terrible tragedy that is playing out over there aptly reminds us of this. To help them is to help grow our common humanity.