Why Ebola must have a big hungry belly: Who is 'eating' the money?

A salary of $110 a week isn’t worth risking one’s life to fight Ebola. And foreigners who catch the virus should not be flown out of West Africa.

EBOLA must have a big hungry belly. Having claimed nearly 3,000 lives as of September 25, it still has room to, sometimes, mysterious “eat” the very money meant to wipe it out.

How else do you explain complaints and strikes by several health workers and support staff in nearly all the afflicted countries over unpaid wages, poor working conditions and lack of essential gear?

If I am going to work in a high-risk environment, I’m going to need assurances in the form of protection and incentives - i.e. good pay for the risk.

A salary of $110 a week isn’t worth risking one’s life, yet that’s what support staff at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone were promised but for weeks they didn’t receive even that little.

The long money list

In early September, nurses at Liberia’s largest hospital, John F. Kennedy in Monrovia, also went on strike, demanding better pay and protective equipment like body suits, the lack of which had led to new infections among their colleagues.

It was reported that the European Union (EU) gave $150m to help the governments in West Africa strengthen their health services and secure food and water supplies for people in the affected areas.

The US government has spent more than $100m in response to the outbreak.

Britain has committed support worth $40 million and not too long ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity run by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, announced it was donating $50 million to groups helping to fight the epidemic, including UN agencies, international organisations and national governments to purchase more medical supplies, provide at-risk communities with life-saving health information, coordinate and scale up response activities in the hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Add those figures up and we’re only $120 million short of the $490 million the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated it will take to curb the epidemic. Mark you, that does not include new moneys pledged recently by China, at the ongoing UN meetings in New York where Canada has chipped in $27 million, France said it has set aside €70 million, and EU added €30 million to the current €150 million it has provided to fight Ebola (of course, now we are being told that  we need $1 billion, not $490 million, but there is still a lot of money coming in).

Where has it gone?

Unless it’s another case of “dry’” pledges and empty promises, someone needs to look into how and where all the money dispensed so far has been spent.

We cannot afford to have the few people willing to risk their lives walk out on the sick and leave the dead unburied. We better not see mansions sprouting, and flashy cars on our pothole-ridden roads in the coming months in the Ebola-battered countries!

We finally saw a response from the African Union after it convened a late emergency summit on the crisis. Guess it took long for an  African solution to Ebola to emerge.

Only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia seems to have a solution; not for curbing Ebola which has claimed nearly 1,700 of her people, but rather dealing with big-headed ministers and senior government officials she sacked for refusing to return home and help with efforts to fight the epidemic.

Rightly so. These people shouldn’t be lounging in posh hotels abroad on taxpayers’ money that could be used to buy more gloves, and hand sanitisers.

Don’t evacuate foreigners

If only Sirleaf and other leaders in the afflicted countries could exercise similar resolve in demanding that no other foreign health workers or nationals who contract Ebola are evacuated! They should receive the same treatment in the same facilities the locals in West Africa are using.

Only then will we see concerted efforts to curb the epidemic. Not that we don’t appreciate what the West has contributed so far, but more needs to be done. However, this is one of those times we have to use whatever means to get what we want, otherwise we’ll all die.

With the exception of Father Miguel Pajares, the Spanish priest who died in August, all the other foreign doctors who’ve been evacuated to their respective home countries have gone on to recover, including the three Americans, two Dutch and a Brit.

No one expects the 6,000 or so West Africans carrying the virus to be flown abroad for treatment.

All we’re asking is that rich nations with multiple fully-equipped containment facilities like the one at Emory University in the US and others across Europe take on as many patients as they can, until such a time that we have built sufficient local capacity  of our own. Had

Olivet Buck, along with over 50 doctors, nurses and volunteers who’ve succumbed to the virus been flown out, the death toll wouldn’t only be lower but those professionals would still be around helping their stricken countrymen and women.

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