In today’s Washington Post, there is a picture of a nearly naked man laying supine in the dirt; hovering over him, a person fully covered in Hazmat gear — covered head to toe — dousing the dying man with disinfectant. A short distance away, a crowd of the man’s friends and family stand helpless, no doubt frightened that they are probably next.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the Ebola virus may infect 20,000 Africans by year’s end. Others say 100,000 and more. The outbreak is now growing exponentially. So far, President Obama has pledged $21 million to combat Ebola. The European Union has pledged less than that.
When President Obama hosted the first ever summit of African leaders, three of them were missing. The presidents of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone stayed home because their countries have been the hardest hit with the Ebola virus, and they were dong what little they could to stem the crisis. Yet, Ebola registered barely a blip during the president’s summit. It is reported he mentioned it in his recent meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and that it came up in the NATO summit.
But is there a plan? Former White House speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson says no.
Gerson was present in the George W. Bush White House when the Bush administration became a hero to Africans for rolling out his aggressive PEPFAR program to fight HIV/Aids that saved millions. He says the existing organizations are not set up to deal with a crisis like this. The World Health Organization “is not an emergency response organization; it is known mainly for bureaucracy and infighting.” He says the UN is no better.
When a historic tsunami hit Thailand a few years ago, it was not the WHO or the UN who sent in the big ships full of life-saving material. It was the US military. And something like that is what Gerson says might save the day in Africa. He says, “The White House should be instructing officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health to come up with a plan on a blank chalkboard.” He says the Office of Management and Budget should be working House Republicans to cough up money to fund such a plan. So far, nothing like that is happening.
As it is, it appears that groups like Doctors without Borders and Christian groups like Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse are leading the effort and we watch as their personnel return to the U.S. infected with the disease. Another came back yesterday and is heading to a hospital in Nebraska.
The outbreak began last March in Guinea and spread quickly to Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Global Health Laurie Garrett, these countries are wholly incapable of dealing with such a medical nightmare. According to the Kaiser Foundation, “…per capital spending on healthcare, combining personal and governmental, amounts to only $171 a year in Sierra Leone, $88 a year in Liberia and $67 a year in Guinea.
The great fear is that Ebola will spread further in Nigeria, particularly to the metropolis of Lagos, where such a virus could lay waste to the entire city.
It is interesting that a conservative American president could be so revered in Africa. Even rock star Bono says George Bush did more for Africa that any other American president. The Ebola crisis in Africa will be a real test for America’s first African-American president, and his critics are wondering if he will come through.