I wish there would be an easy answer to that question. An answer that I could give to both sides. To people in Germany who are wondering why the Ebola epidemic now remains undefeated for months. And to the people of Sierra Leone in particular. A simple answer that can be conveyed in a sentence.
But this answer does not exist. The problem is too complex . Actually, everything in the combination of „Extreme poverty – Ebola – West Africa“ is a problem. Just to give a few clues here is my brainstorm:
The number of trained Sierra Leonean doctors is tiny ( I guess less than 50 nationwide ) . The hygienic conditions are bad, many people share simple toilet facilities. At the beginning of the outbreak people did not believe the government as the relationship between government and people is bad, there is no trust. There are too few foreign doctors willing to come. The German media describe Ebola as uncontrollable, which is wrong and only stokes fear. Sierra Leone is a high risk country for malaria. Ebola initially has the same symptoms as malaria and is therefore often denied. Local burial rituals include the washing of the dead, which is an activity that puts family members at high risk contracting Ebola as well. The local culture is strongly related to body contact, the people are very close to each other. In Sierra Leone, guests will never be rejected, the people are very hospitable. The international reaction came too late and too slow. Too many NGOs and UN organizations are circling around coordination, while at the bottom little is going on. Too many resources go into treatment rather than primarily focusing on prevention and containing the spreading of Ebola. This problem is actually well known from HIV. See William Easterly–
„The White Man’s Burden“
There were unfortunately a number of other disasters this year, additional to Ebola, so the media interest was quickly gone.
That is what I think in 5 minutes after a month of working in Sierra Leone. Once again the fair question rises what the individual can do, yes, what a single NGO can reach.
But there is fortunately a simple answer: Damn much.
For four weeks I worked every single day as project administrator for the German Welthungerhilfe in Freetown. The administrative effort for donations and donor funds, as for instance money from the German government, is enormous.
To put the local auxiliaries in a position to provide locally soap, chlorine, educational materials, food packages for households under quarantine, we need to capture every single step in writing. We are just starting a project in which 33,000 household kits will be distributed. This means 33,000 signed delivery notes. In the end, everything has to fit together: it must have been bought exactly what has arrived at the warehouse. The same number of household kits must leave the warehouse as reaches the local beneficiaries. Sometimes I wonder if that is part of the solution or part of the problem. But all that has emerged from the debate about accountability of humanitarian aid. But that is another story that I will tell another time.
This article is an English translation of Julias original article in German language.