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Ebola takes the world by surprise

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An employee takes a break at an AU treatment centre outside Makeni in Sierra Leone. Even though Ebola is spreading through the villages around Makeni, some people have so far been able to protect themselves, while others have been struck by the virus. The village of Yeli Sanda lost many to the virus, whereas the nearby village of Yoni, only 100 metres down the road, has been completely bypassed.
Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Polaris

The first reports of an outbreak of the deadly and highly contagious disease Ebola in Liberia and Guinea in West Africa appear as early as March. They draw people’s attention, but do not cause major alarm. Perhaps because the first outbreak of Ebola in Central Africa at the end of the 1970s was stopped before it could spread from Sudan and the former Zaire to other countries.

The Ebola outbreak in 2014 turns out to follow a completely different path. It develops into a pandemic with over 9,000 deaths, a state of alert in most of Western Africa, and what can best be described as a humanitarian disaster in the three countries that were hit the hardest – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The world wakes up during 2014 and allocates billions of dollars to the fight against Ebola. Nevertheless, it must recognise that the global preparedness and response to such a pandemic is inadequate. Consequently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is now strengthening its pandemic response capability and tightening its guidelines for how countries are to respond to pandemics.

The Ebola outbreak also illustrates how countries with relatively well-functioning health systems and structures, such as Ghana, are indeed capable of tackling such a serious disease. This confirms that the fundamental idea behind long-term development cooperation of building national capacity in weak states is indeed the right approach. The three countries hardest hit are all fragile states with miserable health systems.

Furthermore, the economic consequences of the Ebola outbreak become disastrous: food production and all other activities are disrupted, food prices explode, and economic growth is replaced by downturn. The economies of the other West African countries are also badly affected. In particular, tourism revenues plunge, testifying that Africa is still perceived by many outside Africa as a country and not a continent of 54 different countries.

Large-scale and broad Danish Ebola response

In 2014, Denmark contributed a total of DKK 190 million to the fight against Ebola:

5 September

Denmark allocates DKK 20 million to fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. DKK 10 million goes to an UN air-bridge, and DKK 10 million is used in Ghana for Ebola emergency preparedness and response. Denmark has earlier allocated approx. DKK 2 million to Danish aid organisations’ efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

24 September

Transport ships to Ebola-affected countries: During the 69th UN General Assembly in New York, in which Ebola is on the agenda, Denmark announces a further contribution of DKK 40 million to Ebola response measures. Denmark offers the UN and others the use of a Danish transport vessel for delivering emergency aid to the populations affected by the terrible epidemic in West Africa.

21 October

Denmark allocates a further DKK 10 million to strengthening the Ghanaian emergency health service response to cope with the threat posed by the Ebola epidemic.

22 October

With a further grant of DKK 115 million, the Danish Ebola response is significantly strengthened. The funds are partly to be used to make medical staff available, to dispatch a camp for housing international medical staff in Sierra Leone, and to set up an inter-ministerial taskforce to coordinate the response efforts.