In August 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) formally declared Ebola an International Public Health Emergency – the largest, most severe and most complex outbreak in four-decade history of the disease.
Since then, it has been a race against time to save lives in sub-Saharan Africa especially in six West African countries worst hit by the disease – Liberia, Nigeria, Mali ,Senegal, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Drugs that could potentially treat those already infected and the vaccines to protect people at risk of new infections are all in the earliest stages of testing. Even if they pass the test of time, they possibly cannot be produced in large quantities to quickly enough to stem the widening epidemic anytime soon.
Ebola is a viral disease that is extremely infectious. Laboratory experiments on non-human primates suggest that even a single virus may be enough to trigger a fatal infection in any particular country.
In its latest situational reports, the WHO confirmed that by January 14th, 2015, the Ebola death toll has hit 2806 deaths in Guinea with 1814 cases, 8331 deaths and 3538 cases in Liberia, 8 deaths and 6 cases in Mali, 8 deaths and 20 deaths and 8 cases in Nigeria, 10,124 deaths and 3062 in Sierra Leone and only one case in Senegal.
Traditional public-health measures, like finding and isolating patients who become sick, tracing their contacts and people that they have been in contact with and using stringent infection control procedures in hospitals, remain the best bet for containing the epidemic in Africa.
Most African countries have put in place mitigation measures to ensure that the virus does not find its way in their country. With high-tech screening in most airports, the hope is that country residents will be safe.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it: “We do not know how to treat Ebola or vaccinate against it – and it will be a long time before we do.”
Ebola outbreak presents a major humanitarian crisis and is a tragedy for those affected and their families and threatens to derail great economic strides that have been achieved by the affected countries
So how can we chip in, in our small ways to help fight if not eradicate the disease in Africa?
The world over, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) have been known to work better to alleviate or reduce the spread of global diseases. For instance, The Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation in Kenya joined forces with Rotary International and other partners in early 2014 to create awareness about Polio eradication in the country. As a result, Kenya has continued to record low cases of Polio disease following a countrywide ‘This Close’ campaign that sensitized the importance of Polio immunisation.
In the same breath, corporate organisations have an opportunity to not only create awareness about the deadly Ebola disease but also sensitise the general public on steps they should take to keep away from the global killer. Knowledge is power.
Back in July 2014, Airtel Sierra Leone partnered with the Government in the fight against the disease. The company and the staff donated One Hundred Million Leones to The President of Sierra Leone, H.E. President Ernest Bai Koroma and an additional commitment to further support the Government to broaden Information, Communications Technology (ICT) development in the country. To date, Airtel has contributed one billion Leones to Sierra Leone Government to support Ebola eradication – both in cash and in-kind.
These are some of the small steps but with big impacts that in the end will see Africa be able to contain the disease in the end.
Secondly, through a Pan-African campaign in the fight against Ebola in the continent, Airtel Africa in partnership with key stakeholders in the continent rolled out a campaign – AfricaAgainstEbola where they have provided a toll free number whereby the public in their 17 Operating Countries can use to reach out to relevant partners to report and obtain feedback on Ebola cases in the specific countries.
The campaign was intended to help in the dissemination of Ebola related communication designed by health experts to the public through SMS and social media platforms.
Airtel in partnership with Africel and other mobile operators have also provided close user group service for data collection through contact tracers.
To further support this, Airtel also worked with mobile companies in providing support to the Sierra Leone Government for hazard pay by providing over 15,000 temporary support staff that have been deployed in the country to manage contact tracing, treatment and holding centres and also plan burial arrangements all who are paid through Airtel mobile money by Airtel, Africel and Splash.
Finally, Airtel and other mobile phone companies in Tanzania this year partnered with the African Union to support the same in West Africa. The initiative – AfricaAgainstEbola will use an SMS dedicated platform to raise funds for the deployment of African health workers to the affected countries.
According to Israelmore Ayivor, a leadership entrepreneur, author and speaker “With teamwork, any little contribution you make yields greater output when it meets the contribution of others, and guess who gets the plus? Everyone in the team!”
We have the best resources to contain the disease as a country and as a people. Together let’s embrace Public Private Partnerships and kick out Ebola that threatens to attack the very fabric of the African continent.
By Sudipto Chowdhury, Airtel Sierra Leone Managing Director