How the African medical sector can better prepare for outbreaks like Ebola

Tauriq Moosa contributes to various business and news publications, around the world. He is a writer at Cape Town-based SEO marketing company 2Stroke Interactive.

CAPE TOWN – The scenario of a virus or disease spreading rapidly through a vulnerable population is not merely a fictional scenario.

Consider, for example, the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009/2010. The situation was so dire the World Health Organisation organised a “Hospital preparedness checklist for pandemic influenza” which was recommended to help manage the virus.

What’s important though was that the pandemic passed, specifically thanks to quick-thinking, rapid-responses and healthcare preparedness. As the WHO said after the pandemic level was lowered, “the actions of health authorities in New Zealand, and also in India, in terms of vigilance, quick detection and treatment, and recommended vaccination, provide a model of how other countries may need to respond in the immediate post-pandemic period.”

Africa as a whole is currently facing some serious problems, most notably the re-emergence of the Ebola virus.

A Reuters report notes that since the outbreak since February this year, Ebola has killed 632 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone… putting strain on a “string of weak health systems facing one of the world’s deadliest diseases despite waves of international help.”

The question is why Ebola is spreading faster now than it did before, especially if one considers that the medical health sector should be able to deal with outbreaks such as these.

Leading epidemiologist Michel Van Herp, of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has suggested some reasons.

“All three countries have weak health systems, including severe human resource constraints. Furthermore, the region’s health workers have never dealt with Ebola before and need training in infection-control measures to protect themselves and to provide adequate care for patients.”

As always, though, another major factor is “social misunderstanding”; that is, civilians who do not understand the disease start to blame or attack healthcare workers as it spreads.

Dismal healthcare standards, of course, contribute. However, the state of hospitals is symptom – rather than cause – of a badly managed healthcare system. The worst affected are always those who need professional care the most.

Countries can spiral into awful states, as the economy plummets and businesses fail.

Though many don’t want to think about economic infrastructure during such a time, it is vital that they do, as economic stability is needed to aid a populace ravaged by a horrific disease and pandemic.

After facing and surviving an outbreak, no one wants life to take doubly long to return to normal – thus the greater the financial stability, the less chance the social situation can descend into chaos.

In a country like Liberia that is already suffering increased poverty, high cost of living and an upsurge in the exchange rate, this is vital.

In order to create greater economic stability, businesses can take the lead by possibly lowering stock prices or offering free services.

By helping others get back on their feet, businesses can show themselves to be “people-first” and support the gradual rebuilding of the very population of clients that will keep that same business alive.



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