Ebola Crisis: We Are in This for the Long Haul

Since my letter regarding the Ebola crisis in September, 5,160 people have died with a total of 14,098 cases due to the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The actual numbers are probably far worse. Local, regional and international partners, including 30 InterAction members, are collaborating to operate Ebola Treatment Units, conduct contact and identification tracing and perform safe burials while mobilizing communities to contain the virus at its source.

While these efforts have proved to reduce the transmission speed of the virus in certain areas, the United Nations and the World Health Organization continually stress that the international community needs to remain "vigilant." As response workers tirelessly aim to drastically reduce the number of Ebola cases, there are significant barriers created by political rhetoric on travel restrictions, lack of funding and support for longer-term aid, lack of technical expertise and the ongoing challenge of coordination amongst partners. To reduce the number of Ebola cases, these barriers need to be urgently prevented or removed.

Access is imperative to containing Ebola at its source -- West Africa. During the past few weeks, InterAction has strongly expressed to leaders in the White House and Congress that travel restrictions to West Africa through flight bans, mandatory quarantines or visa restrictions will negatively impact current efforts to fight Ebola. Many courageous and committed volunteers have declined to deploy due to uncertainty and a lack of clarity in regards to the threat of travel restrictions. Implementing restrictions will further impact challenges in volunteer recruitment efforts and create unnecessary obstacles to contain the epidemic at its source. President Obama supported this approach in his comments to members of our community.

The fight against Ebola requires additional funding from U.S. government and private donors. Recently the Administration submitted a $6.18 billion emergency funding request to Congress towards urgently containing the epidemic and preventing future global public health crises. To date much of the Ebola work has been funded by borrowing against other programs, including critically needed humanitarian programs. It is critical that Congress approves of this funding request, especially to avoid having a negative funding impact on South Sudan, Syria or other essential efforts.

Along with access and funding, multi-sector coordination through groups like the Global Ebola Response Coalition (GERC) is required to achieve scale and speed in service delivery. Many NGOs and other partners are experiencing limitations in access to technical expertise. Two distinct skill sets are needed in this response -- humanitarian organizations have expertise in rapid service delivery while medical organizations have the scientific knowledge regarding treatment and prevention. Ensuring effective communication channels and increase collaboration between local communities, national governments and international organizations remains a challenge.

Immense support, funding and collaborative efforts are required to stop Ebola. However, our support must not end there. It is necessary to build more robust local healthcare infrastructures and diminish the negative ripple effects the virus has generated. As a global community, it is our responsibility to create sustainable, resilient societies that have heightened capacity to prevent future healthcare crises. The impact of this Ebola outbreak will be felt for years to come and we are in this for the long haul.

To learn more about how InterAction members are responding to Ebola, visit our Ebola Crisis Page.