29 October 2014: As a Malian, and coming from one of the hottest places in the world, I am the last person one would ask about ‘icebergs’. But that was before I watched Titanic, the epic 1997 disaster film.
Titanic reminded me how tragic and destructive an event can be if we are not expecting it and above all, if we are ill-prepared to manage it. An ill-prepared crew could not prevent the Titanic from sinking. An iceberg was the origin of the Titanic tragedy. Today, Ebola is to the world what the iceberg was to the Titanic in 1912. The world is ill-prepared for an Ebola disaster.
Like an iceberg, only a tiny portion of Ebola is visible
But we don’t see, hear and talk about the invisible part of Ebola, the part causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
1.4 million infected by January
According to the Word Bank, the economic impact of the Ebola epidemic could reach US$32.6 billion by the end of next year if the disease spreads to neighbouring countries.
Millions of people will have no access to basic socio-economic services including health and education. Millions of boys and girls will not attend schools and will die from preventable diseases. Thousands of children will be orphans making them more vulnerable and exposed to violence.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can drift and cause more disasters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if nothing is done to curve the spread of the virus, Ebola could infect up to 1.4 million people by mid-January in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone, and potentially spread far beyond the 3 worst affected countries.
The social and economic impact could lead to unrest and political crises in a region where most countries are fragile states. Ultimately, the impact of Ebola will be global.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can ‘melt’ and disappear. The world does not have to wait for Ebola to ‘drift’ to other places. The world must scale up its effort to stop Ebola spread. We are in a war against Ebola.
How to win the war
To win this war, affected people and countries need:
•MORE people: As WHO director general Margaret Chan said it, we need “the right people, the right specialists, and specialists who are appropriately trained and know how to keep themselves safe”. Unfortunately there are not enough people on the ground, in particular medical doctors and health care workers.
•MORE funding: The UN is seeking about US$1 billion to provide training, equipment and care for people suffering from the Ebola virus diseases. On 24 October, 49% of the total funding was received. Plan is also seeking US$11.2 million in cash within the next 3 months to support our response in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The current total funding gap for Plan is US$3 million.
•MORE empathy: “We are Liberian, not a virus,”* said Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA). Like Mrs Yates, people coming from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are often seen as “positive carriers” of the Ebola virus and are facing stigma. Former Ebola patients and Ebola orphans are stigmatised by their families and communities. Stigmatising is the wrong thing to do.
The right thing to do is when President Obama gave a big hug to Dallas nurse* and former Ebola patient Nina Pham in the Oval Office on 24 October.
The right thing to do is to put #HandsOnHearts against Ebola and to post your image to show solidarity and support for children and communities affected by Ebola: plan-international.org/HandsOnHearts.
The right thing to do is to communicate positively, accurately and timely about Ebola as did Rosemary McCarney, the President and CEO of Plan Canada in an article published on the Toronto Star*: “We must,” she said, “step up our efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, a humanitarian crisis that affects us all.”
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites