Vanessa Pizer, a program officer on Episcopal Relief and Development’s international development team, filed this report from yesterday’s conference sponsored by the Earth Institute’s National Center for Disaster Preparedeness at Columbia University on the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the perceived Ebola crisis in the United States. She writes:
A common concern among the panelists is how fear and political polemics, rather than science, are shaping public views and policy in the United States. They discussed how missteps on the part of the hospital in Dallas and the CDC’s seemingly inadequate response have exacerbated fears and undermined the medical community’s credibility. On the other hand, it was interesting to learn that ultimately the CDC has no authority over state and local hospitals’ and governments’ disease response, as long as these institutions act within the law. So even though it is potentially very damaging for state leaders to enact mandatory quarantines or travel bans, there is little the CDC can do to stop them. Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, highlighted the importance of training staff from all hospitals in the US in proper disaster and disease management. He pointed that since 2003, funding for such programs has decreased from $500 million to $250 million per year. In addition, since 2008, nearly 50,000 public health jobs have been lost.
The insights shared by the panelists currently in or recently returned from West Africa were the highlight of the conference. Stories of resiliency and determination among affected communities came from experts such as Dr. Ranu Dhillon, a physician and Senior Health Advisor at the Earth Institute, who is working with the Government of Guinea to put into place protocols and health services needed to contain cases in Conakry. Dr. Dhillon said Guinean health authorities and their partners are making progress, but a huge hurdle still remains – until deep community engagement, based on mutual trust and respect, is achieved, efforts to contain the disease will be slow. He elaborated on how funeral rites and caring for the sick are more than just deeply ingrained traditions: they are how people retain their sense of humanity. This is on top of the many practical barriers that still remain, such as lack of health centers in rural areas, and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in households, especially in urban areas. Episcopal Relief & Development, working through local Church partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is attempting to address these needs by equipping health workers and volunteers with information, protective equipment and relief supplies, but the challenges are still great.
Is you diocese or church taking steps to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa?