Ebola: From Real Needs in Africa to Fear and Fumbling in the U.S.

Great conversation at the 10/27/14  Kelman seminar with Ashish Jha, the new faculty director at Harvard’s Global Health Institute, and Andy Sechler, director for program quality at Last Mile Health (Tiyatien Health in Liberia.) Andy took us into Liberia, narrating how the civil war, poverty and overall lack of access to care created conditions for a perfect Ebola storm. Ashish explained what led to the current “crisis of confidence” in authorities’ ability to handle the crisis. And I took a stab at explaining why media has been focusing on fear more than facts, and why we need better training for journalists on their role and responsibilities in crisis communication.

Two major questions that linger in my mind are:

1) Will this devastating Ebola outbreak, and the tremendous failure to respond swiftly, be a tipping point for the global health community and lead to better global health governance? (Is this outbreak an existential threat to WHO? Who else could be in charge of mobilizing and coordinating an international response?)

2) Will this teachable moment — people in the West being afraid of Ebola and looking for information — lead to a better understanding of the global threat of infectious diseases and the underlying reasons for its rapid spread in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, all three countries with extreme poverty, low infrastructure and abysmal health outcomes to begin with? In other words, will people sustain some interest in health systems, or at east remember that these matter to avert bigger disasters and costlier measures in the future?

Andy Sechler assembled some notes (at the bottom of the announcement.) Thanks, Andy!

Glad we could push the conversation forward a bit today.

With special thanks to Donna Hicks and Susan Hackley for making this happen.