Moving Beyond Ebola, Preventing Future Health Epidemics

For the three West African countries that have lost more than 11,000 people to the Ebola virus disease outbreak, the International Ebola Recovery Conference held at the United Nations on July 9th and 10th was an important step towards the long recovery process ahead. I had the opportunity to attend both days of the conference, and experienced the international community continue its commitment to not only help control the outbreak, but also assist Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in their recovery efforts.

The conference drew attention to the necessary recovery phase that must take place to strengthen these countries. It was a platform for the representatives of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Mano River Union to outline their recovery strategies, and for the UN to foster a dialogue between the African countries and the donor community about recovery priorities and expectations. Donors subsequently pledged an unprecedented $3.4 billion in new funding, with the United States pledging $266 million, in addition to the $1.8 billion already provided for the response efforts. This brings the total pledged for response and recovery to more than $5.2 billion from the donor community.

As the Senior Coordinator for the Africa Ebola Unit at USAID, this particular conference had a great impact on the work I am involved with at the agency. I have seen USAID, with the help of our partners, do an extraordinary job helping the Ebola-affected countries respond to the outbreak. Under the United States Government response strategy, we have supported activities such as surveillance and monitoring, social mobilization, safe burials, laboratory testing of specimens, and infection prevention and control protocols, in addition to much more.

These efforts have given us a platform which allows the global community to prepare for, respond to and detect humanitarian health crises. We must all remember that this outbreak of Ebola was the largest and most pervasive humanitarian health crisis that the world has ever witnessed. The fact that the international community and these countries pulled together and worked as teams on a crisis that had not been experienced before, is nothing short of a miracle. Our teams have been in West Africa since August 2014 and we will continue to work with the governments and the people of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other border countries to end the outbreak and transition to rebuilding their countries.

Moving forward, we must continue to target key weaknesses in global health security. The effects of the Ebola outbreak do not end when all three countries get to zero cases and stay at zero, but rather when they see both an end to new Ebola cases and recovery efforts that lead to more stable and better prepared societies. The funds pledged at this conference should be used to address the key impacts laid bare by the virus -- health systems, schools, farming and livelihoods. Here at the AEU, we are doing exactly that by ramping up our recovery efforts and specifically targeting key negative impacts of the Ebola outbreak. We are particularly focusing on programs that support food security; restoring essential health services and strengthening overall health systems; improving governance and economic crisis mitigation; and promoting innovation and communication technology. We are partnering with numerous implementing partners to create the best strategies possible for long-lasting solutions. On the path toward recovery, we must ensure that we continue to hold ourselves and our partners accountable for being transparent and maximizing sustainable results.

As most are aware, a consortium working with the Government of Guinea has recently completed a trial of a new vaccine and the results are very promising. I commend the government of Guinea and the consortium, and I know we look forward to seeing the full results. However, controlling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will continue to depend on current effective prevention and control measures, including identifying and tracing contacts, strengthening healthcare systems, mobilizing laboratories, and protecting borders.

This Ebola outbreak taught the world that diseases have no borders. It is a global responsibility to collectively act in moments of international crises to prevent another health crisis of this magnitude from occurring in the future. The International Ebola Recovery Conference is a great step forward in a global call to action that will lead to new ways of preventing and preparing for global crises, and the creation of more resilient societies in Africa.

About the Author: About the Author: Denise Rollins serves as Senior Coordinator of the Africa Ebola Unit at USAID.

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Mother washing child’s hands with chlorine treated water from a bucket that was provided to the family by International Red Cross, in Conakry, Guinea, January 14, 2015, [UN Photo/Martine Perret]
Posted by Denise Rollins
August 10, 2015


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