Global Health Groups Call for 'Common Mission' to Fight Ebola

While news of Ebola quarantines being lifted in Dallas on Monday brought a measure of relief in the United States’ effort to combat the spread of Ebola, healthcare workers and officials across the globe are saying that the only way to contain what could become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation” is with a united response that includes emergency funding, uniform implementation of safety measures, and federally mandated action.

In contrast to the American healthcare system, that pits patient and worker health against profit, world health authorities are commending the national efforts of two West African nations that have successfully stemmed the transmission of Ebola this week, illustrating an example of this united healthcare initiative that analysts say is “worth following.”

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the nation’s largest union of nurses, National Nurses United, writes, “In the U.S., long experience with the privately-run corporate hospital chains that dominate care delivery have made the sober reality abundantly clear—unless the healthcare industry is mandated to put the safety of patients, nurses, and other caregivers above their profit motive, the Ebola threat will only get worse.”

Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is revising their Ebola safety protocols, including a measure directing healthcare workers to use protective gear “with no skin showing.” The changes come days after it was revealed that the nurses who treated U.S. Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, two of whom contracted the virus, were not given proper protective equipment nor any mandatory training.

“Unless the healthcare industry is mandated to put the safety of patients, nurses, and other caregivers above their profit motive, the Ebola threat will only get worse.”
—Rose Ann DeMoro, National Nurses United

Despite such advisories, the guidelines are unenforceable in U.S. hospitals. As DeMoro notes, “the CDC still does not have the authority to compel hospitals, which have repeatedly shown they will pick and choose whatever protocols they like, usually based on their budget goals and profit margins.”

This week, NNU is holding a National Week of Action and has started a petition calling on President Obama to issue an executive order mandating uniform, national standards and protocols that all hospitals must follow with the threat of revoking federal funding should the healthcare facility not comply.

Analysts charge that the exportation of neoliberal economic models, which have shaped the for-profit healthcare model in the U.S., has similarly dismantled public infrastructure around the world and paved the way for the Ebola crisis which is currently sweeping countries in West Africa today.

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced that Nigeria and Senegal are now “free” of Ebola virus transmission. The successes, WHO says, can be attributed largely to a united national response, during which federal and state governments “provided ample financial and material resources, as well as well-trained and experienced national staff.”

“Is it possible, for example, that Nigeria, of all places, might have some wisdom to convey to the United States?” writes Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Kwei Quartey.

Quartey continues:

Both Nigeria and Senegal moved quickly to quell an Ebola outbreak through meticulous contact tracing, coordinated national action, exhaustive interviews, and activation of an Ebola Incident Management Center. Both countries are now reportedly free of the disease.

Although the story is not yet over, the U.S. government has lauded Nigeria’s initial management of the outbreak. Indeed, the CDC has now ordered dozens of high-tech, infrared, no-touch thermometers to be used in screening procedures at U.S. gateway airports—the same ones that are already being used in West Africa.

Referencing the recent statement by Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner David Lakey that Dallas is “not West Africa,” Quartet concludes: “David Lakey is right: Texas is not West Africa. But every once in a while, the West African example is worth following.”

According to the latest transmission numbers, as of October 14 there have been a total of 9216 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola worldwide, 9191 of which were documented in the countries where it is most widespread: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

On Saturday, international aid organization Oxfam issued a call for more funding, health care personnel, as well as military staff for logistical support, to be sent to those countries in order to prevent the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation.”

“We are in the eye of a storm. We cannot allow Ebola to immobilize us in fear, but instead we must move toward a common mission to stop it from getting worse,” said executive director Winnie Byanyima. “Countries that have failed to commit troops, doctors and enough funding are in danger of costing lives. The speed and scale of the intervention needed is unprecedented. Only a concerted and co-ordinated global effort will stop the spread.”

Oxfam estimates that the window of time to stem “unprecedented outbreak” is less than two months.