Rapid-reaction force

Hitting Ebola Where it Hurts

Ebola AP
Thousands of people have been infected during the West African Ebola outbreak.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Organizing rapid-response teams to tackle epidemics before they spread could not only save lives, but also prevent economic disaster in affected countries.

  • Facts


    • Germany has contributed nearly €200 million to fighting the Ebola epidemic.
    • Germany wants to finance an epidemic strike force to respond faster to similar emergencies.
    • The World Bank estimates that Ebola cost Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea $1.6 billion,  €1.49 billion, in 2015.
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A half-year ago, forecasts for the deadly Ebola virus were bleak. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that more than one million people in West Africa could be infected by the beginning of 2015. In the worst case, the epidemic could spread beyond Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

While it is still too early to sound the all-clear for the hardest-hit countries in West Africa, German government officials will find a far less endangered region when they travel to West Africa this week.

Hermann Gröhe, the health minister, and Gerd Müller, minister of economic cooperation and development, will visit the region on Thursday and Friday, including Liberia, where the epidemic killed nearly 4,500 people.

The German government contributed nearly €200 million to fighting the outbreak, and now wants to participate in an aid program to build health systems in the region. In Liberia, for example, the medical infrastructure was almost completely destroyed during 20 years of civil war at the end of the last century.

Germany also wants to help finance an epidemic strike force to respond more quickly to similar health emergencies.

The German organization for international cooperation – known as GIZ – will establish a core team that could be ready to respond anywhere in the world within three to five days, said Mr. Müller.

Doctors without Borders, the humanitarian aid organization, has warned that the international response to Ebola is still too slow and disorganized.

The World Health Organization is too cumbersome and bureaucratic in these kinds of catastrophes.

A more rapid response framework is needed to tackle these epidemics. The World Health Organization is considered too cumbersome and bureaucratic in these kinds of catastrophes.

The Ebola outbreak was made public in March 2014. But it wasn’t until August that the World Health Organization declared a health emergency – when the number of infected had already risen exponentially.

What followed “unsparingly revealed how inefficient and slow the international health and aid systems react to emergency cases,” said a recent report by Doctors Without Borders.

According to the German government, the three hardest hit West African countries have been set back up to 10 years by the epidemic.

The World Bank estimated $1.6 billion, or €1.49 billion in losses to economic growth in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for this year alone. The bank has pledged nearly $1 billion for the three countries.

“We don’t need to wait till we get to zero [Ebola cases] to start working on the economic recovery,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim during a visit to Liberia this week, according to the Associated Press.

Overall, Ebola infection numbers are falling drastically. In Liberia, where almost 10,000 people were infected, the number of new cases has declined significantly. Although a new infection was reported three weeks ago in the capital Monrovia, it was the first since the beginning of March.

“I am pretty certain that Ebola will be gone by the end of August,” said Ismail Ould Ahmed, who heads the United Nations emergency response to the epidemic.


Wolfgang Drechsler is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Africa. To contact him: dreschler@handelsblatt.com

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