Zainab Tunkara Clarkson
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 May 2015
Now that the worst of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has passed and the spread of the epidemic significantly slowed down, rebuilding shattered and devastated communities is the next big challenge.
In several ways, reconstruction may actually be a bigger task than curtailing the virus, as this involves massive long term financial investment.
Across the West African sub-region, about 10,702 people have died of the virus, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea the worst affected countries.
In Sierra Leone, schools were shut, markets devastated, thousands of children orphaned, commercial enterprises decimated and thousands of hitherto industrious people are now dependent on handouts.
Liberian president Ellen Sirleaf- Johnson, said that the economic impact of Ebola is as much a tragedy and disaster as the deaths caused. She pointed out that in the months just after the outbreak, airlines abandoned her country, markets closed, economic growth stalled, tourism and foreign investment vanished.
Today Liberia’s economy is slowly recovering as WHO officially declares the country Ebola free after 42 days of zero cases, while the economy of Guinea is stagnating and Sierra Leone is suffering severe recession.
In the World Bank’s latest update on the West African sub-region – published on April 15, all three countries are said to be facing serious vulnerabilities, including decimated government budgets and the need to rebuild employment, education, infrastructure and routine health care.
During a recent visit to Washington, President Ernest Bai Koroma appealed to the international community not to forsake Sierra Leone. His cries were echoed by those of President Sirleaf- Johnson and Guinean President Alpha Condé.
The three leaders are asking for debt relief of $3.2bn and an $8bn commitment over several years to help rebuild their economies and health system.
A donor’s conference has been planned for July 2015, during which the request for finance will be debated. But for now, the World Bank has pledged about $650m in aid over the next 12 to 18 months.
Across all three countries, weak local health-care systems proved inadequate when the virus began to spread last year, and these need to be significantly rebuilt to deal with the post-ebola era.
Generally, healthcare facility improvements are needed in all three countries, especially a much-strengthened system of surveillance to spot any resurgence.
With professional healthcare workers in short supply, a massive recruitment and training exercise is needed.
President Sirleaf-Johnson described her efforts to empower communities to fight the disease, as a far more effective approach than commands from above.
One of the most profound lessons from the epidemic is that, in addition to the need for treatment centres, human behaviour plays an important part in such crisis.
Fear can unleash irrational and dangerous behaviours that are responsible for the spread of the virus. It is therefore essential to build trust among people affected by the virus.
In Sierra Leone for instance, treatment centres were attacked, with materials carted away, which worsened the spread of EVD. Local communities would need to be sensitised about the impact of such negative behaviours.
Combating ignorance and fear should form part of a new national awareness campaign, driven by a wider post-Ebola rehabilitation plan.
Central to this plan is the resuscitation of economically depressed communities, skills training of thousands – if not millions of young people, and the reinvigoration of dormant communities.
Like her two neighbours, Sierra Leone’s recovery from Ebola will by and large be judged by how well she revives her economy, increase access to healthcare provision, provide education, rebuild social amenities, improve sanitation and access to clean water.
Just as Europe got herself back from chaos after the World War Two, so too must Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea embark upon a post-Ebola rebuilding programme.
If countries like Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union could rebuild themselves within a short space of time, we have no excuse not to do the same in West Africa.
What is needed now is the goodwill and commitment of the international community, world leaders like president Obama, the Word Bank and the IMF, to ensure that the aspirations and hopes of millions of West Africans are realised very quickly, before apathy steps in.
About the author:
Zainab Tunkara Clarkson is the Chairlady of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA UK), Board Member of Teach For Sierra Leone and Murraytong Pikin. She is also the Children and Gender Editor and Marketing Director of Voices from the Diaspora Radio Network.