During my visit to Monrovia, Liberia last week, I witnessed the disheartening impact of Ebola, and how it has caused a serious disruption of Liberia’s social, economic and cultural fabric. The rate at which the virus has spread, and the escalating death toll has exposed some basic integral issues within the public health, and infrastructure sectors in parts of West Africa. In the two countries that are most severely affected by the outbreak; Liberia and Sierra Leone, poor infrastructure and limited investment in the public health system has served as the immediate source of the rapid spread of the virus.
The limited availability of basic amenities such as running water and sanitation, inadequate health-care services, the lack of basic hygiene products and facilities, and poor roads has undercut an enormous amount of the life-saving efforts to fight the rapid spread of this disease.
It has wreaked havoc on the population; shut down every school in the country, shattered lives, destroyed families, left orphans with nowhere to turn to, and created a culture of fear more destructive than the Ebola virus itself.
It’s clear the immediate source of this disease is medical however; the root lies in the two major weaknesses in Africa’s development trends: poor infrastructure and limited investment in public health. Healthcare workers are struggling daily to save lives– the roads to reach patients in rural communities infected by the virus are lacking, to find patients is difficult, much less transferring them from a village to a treatment center. The consistent delivery of healthcare supplies and testing has been interrupted due to the lack of sustainable infrastructure.
It’s a clear sign the Ebola outbreak is therefore not just a medical crisis, but an indication there are countries in Africa still far behind. Indeed, there is hope that the fight against Ebola can be won, with signs of victory in Senegal and then Nigeria. However, the very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources call for support that has been abandoned on the agenda of many African countries for far too long.
How can we prevent future outbreaks of such magnitude if we lack robustly equipped health facilities, adequate roads, better hospitals and overall human capacity building? We see in Sierra Leone that they are still fighting to keep people alive, facing a faceless but deadly enemy.
Yes, the redundant Western media Ebola reporting has started to disappear, but as Africans, we need to remain vigilant, and continue to tackle the root cause of this disease, until every country is completely Ebola-free!