Africa and the ‘Ebola diplomacy’ by super powers

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The West African coast is witnessing one of the most serious health challenges in human history similar to what the colonial adventurists from the Western European nations experienced [the great plague of 1665-1666]  in those days of early expeditions in search of cheap laborers by way of capturing and/or buying of slaves and raw materials for their home industries prior to the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 at which period these colonial warlords oversaw the partitioning of the then conquered African territories among themselves.
 
Ebola Virus Disease [EVD] which was first noticed in 1974 in the then Zaire now Congo-Kinshasa has resurfaced since April 2014 in three West African Countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia whereby almost two thousand persons have died from its affliction and so far there is no cure nor humanly tested and approved vaccine to tackle this grave threats to the survival of humanity and especially Africans who live in poor neighborhoods without sufficient and/or quality healthcare facilities and adequate health workers.
 
From Liberia, Mr. Patrick Sawyer who until his demise in Lagos was a senior diplomatic staff of the Liberian ministry of foreign affairs who knowingly brought Ebola Virus Disease to the largest African nation globally-Nigeria and as the index case he afflicted over twenty persons made up of those medical workers who attended to him in the private clinic he was rushed into in Lagos state when he collapsed of the then undetermined ill health on arrival at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos to attend the Economic Community of West African States’ [ECOWAS] function in Calabar, Cross River State.
 
But for the vigilance of some of the deceased Nigerian doctors and nurses, this evil man would have inflicted unimaginable damage to the health of Nigerians who are also undergoing serious challenge of lack of good and functional health care facilities all across the large country of over 170 million people.
 
 It will be recalled that West African Health infrastructure is in such a dilapidated state that the arrival of the Ebola Virus Disease which require intensive care for sufferers to have a fighting chance of surviving meant virtually death sentence for much of the poor populations in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
 
Liberia for instance has run out of bed spaces for Ebola patients to such a cruel extent that families started abandoning their loved ones with suspected cases of EVD at the middle of the deserted roads to die in installment.  It got so bad that in Monrovia, the nation’s political leaders instructed the armed soldiers to quarantine a poor neighborhood of over 50,000 residents when it was found out that some hoodlums from that restive and very dejected community robbed and dispossess some Ebola Virus Disease patients of their beddings and personal effects which are contaminated and seen as likely avenues for rapid transmission to the larger populations. So the quarantined populace were virtually left without basic foodstuffs and other necessities of life even as soldiers stood guard and made sure that escapees are flogged into line.
 
Nigeria that unfortunately became afflicted with the EVD courtesy of the late Liberian official Mr. Sawyer, battled tooth and nail to control and contain the EVD from spreading among the very large populations. The Nigerian Government which is fully aware of the bad state of health infrastructure quickly released the sum of N1 billion to the Federal Ministry of health to set up  emergency response/treatment centers across the country even as the Nigerian Government declared a state of health emergency over the Ebola Virus Disease that arrived through the Liberian diplomat who has been described by the Nigerian President as a Crazy Liberian.
 
The Nigerian Government had initially appealed to the international community for assistance to tackle the EVD affliction especially in the area of technical and medical assistance but her effort to get the only potentially efficient vaccine against the disease developed by the United States’ center for disease control which is called ZMAPP was rebuffed by the United States government on the ground that the drugs have been exhausted having been used to treat two American missionaries that got the EVD while working in Liberia.
 
But two major decisions taken by China and Cuba, two international competitors of America in the pursuit of regional presence in Africa towards ameliorating the untold hardship faced by West African Ebola patients completely changed the dynamics of the United States’ involvement actively in tackling the health challenges posed to some of the West African Countries by EVD.
 
President Barack Obama apparently rattled by the quick thinking of both China and Cuba to send relief materials and medical workers to the most affected West African countries to tackle the EVD pandemics, took his time to make a nationwide broadcast whereupon he branded EVD as one of the worst national security threats which should receive the comprehensive attention of his nation’s Federal Government.
 
But those who should know are aware that if the USA had neglected West Africa in these perilous times and let China and Cuba have free reign around the West African coast then it is safe to say that China and Cuba will be better perceived as  good and better caring friends of the African people than the sole World super power- The United States which ironically is now ruled by the first ever black American President whose father originally hailed from the East African country of Kenya. Kenya had come under the radar of the World Health Organization as one country that is imminently threatened by possible spread of EVD because it is the regional hub for international travelers and travelers coming from West Africa.
 
The EBOLA VIRUS DISEASE DIPLOMACY has indeed entered frenetic stage with the entry of the United States to make her presence known in the three worst affected countries whereby EVD has killed several thousands of people.
 
The World Football governing body-FIFA had similarly stepped in to assist Liberia by donating several hospital equipment to  convert the Monrovia national stadium into a collapsible hospital whereby EVD patients who in their thousands can’t  access any bed space to treat their ailments can now be attended to as a matter of international emergency. So we can say that the Ebola diplomacy has even penetrated the global game of football perceived as the most lucrative  sports in the World now. The involvement of FIFA in the battle against EVD has also won them admirers and attention has slightly been shifted from the cases of corruption involving some of their officials in the just concluded Brazil World Cup. In the new era of EBOLA VIRUS DISEASE’ DIPLOMACY there is a World of difference between it and the defunct cold war that raged between the then Soviet Union and the United States of America because now  all the parties involved have not tried to out maneuver each other to gain any advantage by way of trade exchanges between these assistance -rendering countries and the recipients in West Africa.  
 
In the White House after what the Cable Network Television [CNN] called an in-person briefing from the staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, President Barack Obama  recently announced a “major increase” in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
 
The United States will send troops, material to build field hospitals, additional health care workers, community care kits and badly needed medical supplies, he gladly announced.
 
CNN recalled vividly that countless taxis filled with families worried they’ve become infected with Ebola currently crisscross Monrovia in search of help.
They scour the Liberian capital, but not one clinic can take them in for treatment.
“Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia,” said Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization’s director-general.
“As soon as a new Ebola treatment facility is opened, it immediately fills to overflowing with patients,” the WHO said.
Hospitals and clinics in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — the countries hit hardest by the outbreak — are overwhelmed by what the WHO is calling the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
 
The US intervention may have also been fast tracked by increasing criticisms that it has not done much to help these West African nations afflicted by EVD. The virus has killed at least 2,400 people, and thousands more are infected. For instance the World Health Organization has consistently warned of severe affliction on a global scale should the World super powers fail to assist.
 
“The number of new cases is increasing exponentially,” the WHO said, calling the situation a “dire emergency with … unprecedented dimensions of human suffering.”
 
The US President poetically and graphically painted the picture of the huge challenge that EVD has caused these African nations and stated thus; “Men and women and children are just sitting, waiting to die right now,” Obama said.
 
“This is a daunting task, but here’s what gives us hope. The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science. We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it. We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast,” Obama said.
 
“We can’t dawdle on this one. We have to move with force and make sure that we are catching this as best we can, given that it has already broken out in ways that we have not seen before.”
The CDC already has hundreds of professionals on the ground in what the President described as the “largest international response in the history of the CDC.”
 
General Darry Williams commander of the US Army Africa is in Liberia already whereby he will coordinate the military’s efforts to improve logistics, to build additional field hospitals and to create what the President called an “air bridge” to bring in additional supplies and health care workers. The effort will be called Operation United Assistance.
 
The new treatment centers may house up to 1,700 additional beds. American military personnel in the region could increase by 3,000, administration officials  quoted by CNN said.
The U.S. will also create a new training facility to help prepare thousands more health care workers to handle sick patients. U.S. medics will train up to 500 health care workers per week to identify and care for people with Ebola.
 
USAID will give 400,000 treatment kits with sanitizer and other protective items like gloves to families to help them protect their own safety as they care for sick relatives.
The President also called on Congress to approve additional funding his administration requested to carry on these critical efforts to stop the virus.
 
Obama added that “faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to” the United States to lead international efforts to combat the virus. He said the United States is ready to take on that leadership role.
“Here’s the hard truth. In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before. It’s spiraling out of control,” Obama said. “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”
 
Washington has already committed more than $100 million to combat Ebola, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
 
Global media recalled that last week, USAID said it would spend $75 million to build treatment facilities and supply them with medical equipment. The Pentagon says it’s working to shift $500 million of not yet obligated funds toward the Ebola effort.
 
 President Obama further upped the ante in the EBOLA DIPLOMACY in West Africa when he stated thus; “This is a global threat and demands a global response,” Obama said. He added that the international community needs to move faster.
 
Next week, so reports the World media, the U.S. will chair an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to maximize the response to the Ebola crisis. The White House will also bring more countries together to talk about future health threats.
 
World Health Organization -WHO had announced recently  that China dispatched a mobile laboratory team to Sierra Leone to help test for the virus. The team of 59 from the Chinese Center for Disease Control includes epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses. This team will join 115 Chinese medical staff already on the ground in Sierra Leone.
 
British Broadcasting Corporation announced that Cuba is sending 165 health workers to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, officials say.
Doctors, nurses and infection control specialists will travel to Sierra Leone in October and stay for six months.
The announcement comes as the World Health Organization says new cases in West Africa are increasing faster than the capacity to manage by professionals.”
 
The arrival of EVD has indeed opened another diplomatic channel for some of the World superpowers and competitors for African raw materials to try their hands at winning hearts and minds of Africans. While not dismissing these magnanimities, this writer is of the considered view based on empirical evidence that African leaders and elites should stop stealing the wealth of their respective nations but to use these enormous wealth they have cornered to their offshore accounts towards developing medical research and health infrastructure so Africa does not continue to remain the weeping child of the international community that will always go cap in hand begging for assistance at the occurrence of every small natural or man -made disasters.
 
Africans must consolidate the legal frameworks to battle corruption  and defeat corruption and institutionalize transparency and accountability in the administration of public wealth before the continent can stop depending on outside assistance to tackle her internal problems such as the EVD. African wealth should remain in Africa to help build a better and prosperous, peaceful and healthy continent who can proudly be identified as god members of the human race.
 
 
+ Emmanuel Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and     [email protected], www.huriwa.org.