Ebola on the agenda at the AfDB Annual Meetings
"Are We Ready for the Next Epidemic? – Fixing Africa's Primary Healthcare". This was the theme of a panel discussion on Monday, May 25, during the African Development Bank Annual Meetings in Abidjan.
The participants in the panel included Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia; Daniel Kablan Duncan, the Ivorian Prime Minister; Andy Wright, Vice-President for Global Health and Access Programmes at GlaxoSmithKline; Kaifala Marah, the Sierra Leone Minister of Finances; and Donald Kaberuka, the President of the AfDB.
Health is the basis of all economic development. And the Ebola pandemic has shown the importance of increasing investment in health around the world. The AfDB used this panel discussion to showcase the role of African leaders in managing pandemics. What should their role be in the reconstruction process and in preventing the Ebola virus, and other future epidemics? It was this question that the panelists sought to answer.
Donald Kaberuka, the President of the AfDB, began by saying that Ebola emerged at a time when he was working towards the reconstruction of the Mano River countries. "We must understand that the epidemic cannot now be left to governments alone. It is a problem we must address together," he pointed out.
Describing the experience in her country, the Liberian President said she was delighted that the Ebola epidemic had officially ended in Liberia, adding that, "We are not out of the woods, and we continue to work with Guinea and Sierra Leone to exchange experiences". The regional approach to fighting the pandemic is crucial, she stressed. She did not forget to mention the consequences of Ebola and the stigmatization caused by the virus, such as school closures and a sluggish economy, which impeded growth. But she confirmed that the prospect of growth was once again opening up new horizons. Another point she highlighted as crucial in the fight was the involvement of communities, who must address the concerns and work in an integrated way.
The Sierra Leone Minister of Finances also emphasized the scale of the loss in his country: the human toll, along with more than US $2 billion of investment, according to calculations, as well as the crisis that affected the mining sector in particular.
Senegal, which had only one confirmed case that was quickly controlled, was mentioned on several occasions.
The Ivorian Prime Minister spoke of the precautionary measures taken by President Ouattara since Côte d'Ivoire shares borders with the three countries most affected by the Ebola virus. He said that the disease revealed the weaknesses of the health system in our countries. US $114 million were made available for preventive measures along the borders. The international airport at Abidjan, for example, saw 15,000 passengers pass through it during this critical period.
During the discussion the need to learn from the past was clear. Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), mentioned the role of the media, who competed to provide the latest information.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ended the debate on an optimistic note: African countries are ready for the next pandemic, even if efforts are crucially needed to improve our health systems. The President of Liberia thanked the AfDB once again for the considerable support it provided to the affected countries.