Liberia is bearing the full brunt of the Ebola scourge, which has also hit Guinea and Sierra Leone in West Africa. Liberia alone has seen 2,000 cases of infection and almost 1,000 deaths. While the outbreak of Ebola has been steadily punishing West Africa for the better part of this year, what the world is seeing from developed nations is an outbreak of complacency, half-measures, sensationalism and stigmatization toward Africa, which is only serving to exacerbate the problem. With this latest move by the Pentagon to help only foreign workers in Liberia, the message from the United States, intended or not, rings loud and clear: African health-care workers and their patients are not our priority.
Twenty-five beds is nowhere near enough to begin meeting the needs of the countries facing the disease. In one county alone in Liberia, there is a need for 1,000 treatment beds. The county only has 240. How would anyone see 25 beds as a generous donation?
This move to construct facilities only for foreign health workers comes barely a month after President Obama hosted more than 50 African heads of state, a summit that was aimed at highlighting “the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent.” Global health was on the agenda and with regards to the Ebola outbreak, the White House assured all that the United States “is responding rapidly and effectively.”
Treating African health-care workers as anything less than indispensable is inexcusable. It is worth noting that the U.S. military command in Africa, or #Africom, has supposedly been working with #USAID since 2008 to improve the capacity of African militaries and governments to prepare for pandemics. While the focus of the Pandemic Response Program (PRP) has been on influenza, it’s a fair question to ask if any of those exercises have proved fruitful in combating Ebola thus far. Africom was established to help in counterterrorism efforts but has been met with a large amount of suspicion from Africans. If Africom appears to be lackadaisical in its approach to containing Ebola in West Africa, it risks squandering the possibility of building trust between itself and the African governments and people.