Funder Responses to the Ebola Outbreak Should Be Immediate and Long-Term

In March of this year, healthcare workers realized the early warnings of an Ebola Virus outbreak when the disease appeared in patients in four cities in Guinea. It quickly spread to the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia, and now the World Health Organization says that at least 3,400 have died, and 7,400 are infected with the disease. The WHO notes that actual infection and fatality rates are likely two to four times the confirmed numbers.
On Oct. 2, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Philanthropy New York, in cooperation with The Council on Foundations and the Forum Network, presented a webinar entitled “How Philanthropy Can Act to Stop the Ebola Crisis.” Panelists at the webinar agreed that there are both immediate needs to quell the virus and long-term needs in communities that have been severely affected by the disease.
“The immediate task is to treat those patients who are infected right now. The need on the ground is acute,” said David Whalen, chief development officer at Partners in Health. “We need to be able to respond to that first of all. Then, secondly, we need the partnership of donors, individuals, to support the rebuilding of health systems that are absolutely critical to addressing something like this when it comes again, because it will come again, whether it’s Ebola or something else. And then we have to address the policy issues, to make sure that aid is built in a way that provides services to the most marginalized of communities.”
Lisha McCormick, of Last Mile Health, echoed Whalen’s remarks, saying that many of the countries affected by Ebola were countries that had already been in the midst of recovering from several other forms of crises before the arrival of the virus outbreak.
The immediate needs Whalen and McCormick noted included: trained medical staff;medications and protective gear;and systems to deliver supplies, train local workers, and strengthen existing health care availability, the latter of which has been almost non-existent since the outbreak began. McCormick said the lack of routine care or resources to treat other diseases added to the impact in affected areas.
“Since the emergence of the Ebola outbreak, more than 400,000 children have died from Malaria [in Ebola-affected areas],” McCormick said.
A recent military deployment to the area will help iNGOs with tasks that would be extremely difficult for them to execute in the current environment.
“This demands a global response. The military has the supply chain, the generators, the resources that no NGO has,” Whalen said. “But everything inside the centers they build that touches the patient – the staff, the supplies – is being provided by NGOs.”
The critical needs are there for funders to meet, and Marine Buissonniere, director of the Public Health Program at Open Society Foundations, said it was important that funders not assume the current response was enough or that it meant the problem “was taken care of.”
“Part of the reason the response has been perceived as slow is that it took some time to declare it an emergency,” Buissonniere said. “We’re looking at a situation where the number of cases is doubling every three weeks. If the response isn’t mobilized now, then you’re looking at a health crisis that continues to grow and expand for a very long time.”
Buissonniere noted that it was important to respond to the immediate need, while also understanding that there were significant long-term recovery needs in this crisis that would need to be met as well.
“Commerce, education, health – everything is affected in these countries,” Buissonniere said.
On Sept. 30, the announcement was made that the first case of Ebola virus in the United States had been diagnosed in Texas. Speaking to concerns about Ebola spreading in the U.S., Dr. Isaac Benowitz, epidemic intelligence service officer of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said,
“I don’t worry that it will turn into anything like we’re seeing in West Africa because U.S. health systems are much more robust. Our hospitals have been working really hard to be prepared to manage a case of Ebola.”
Benowitz added to the sentiments of fellow panelists when it came to the importance of health care systems.
“It’s important to stay ahead of the curve,” he said, “We need to recognize that public health is critical, not just at the local level, but internationally.…We have to be prepared for a lot of threats, and globally, public health is really underfunded.”

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