With clinical trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine expanding to Mali earlier this month, AfriKids’ International Relations Manager, Katie Arnold, pauses to take a look at the Ebola virus outbreak to date and its wider impacts on West Africa, Ghana specifically and AfriKids’ operations in the Upper East Region.
Since the end of June, when we accelerated the Ebola outbreak up AfriKids’ organisational risk assessment, we have been regularly monitoring the virus and its repercussions both within and outside of West Africa, hoping in vain that the number of reported new cases, and of course deaths, begins to dip rather than continuing to grow. So far this has not been the case and whilst Ghana (the country in which our partner, AfriKids Ghana operates) has not been directly affected, it is increasingly having to deal with numerous indirect impacts of the epidemic, as are the other 12 West African countries not currently contending with an outbreak.
Whilst still heavily weighted toward reporting on the transmission of Ebola itself, media coverage is beginning to shift to the wider impacts, recognising that the ramifications of Ebola far exceed the overwhelming loss of life and echoing the view of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): that Ebola is one of the most complex developmental challenges in recent times, is gradually unwinding the economic growth of the past decade and is taking its toll on unemployment rates, healthcare systems and the socio-economic environments both within and beyond the affected West African countries. As at 9th November, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, each suffering with ‘widespread and intense transmission’, together reported 14,068 cases and 5,147 deaths. The accumulated debt of the three already owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is approximately $370m, of which $55 is due over the next two years. The US government wants the IMF to write off $100m of this total in order to strengthen the nations’ economies as they continue to battle with Ebola and then implement recovery strategies. As at 15th November, the IMF committed to provide $300m in additional funding to help the three fight Ebola.
Amidst the multiple forms of disarray rippling through West Africa and beyond as a result of the epidemic, what role has Ghana played in response and preparations to date and how is AfriKids preparing itself and its child rights and community development work?
Ghana’s geographical positioning and accessibility within West Africa, as well its President’s position as the ECOWAS Chairman, prompted the establishment of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) headquarters in Accra, the capital, in September. Responsible for coordinating international aid to assist in combating the crisis, UNMEER is tasked with ensuring all components of the national plans to stop Ebola are rapidly put in place, that West African states effectively collaborate to tackle the outbreak and that international aid is put to the most efficient and effective use. In addition, Ghana itself now has three dedicated Ebola treatment centres located in three of its major cities: Accra, Kumasi and Tamale, and the Ghanaian government has reportedly allocated funds exceeding Ghs35m (cedis) to bolster the country’s preparedness to fight a potential in-country outbreak.
Despite the preparedness of the country as a whole, it is widely acknowledged that communities, families and individuals have a critical role to play in protecting themselves and their loved ones from potential contamination, easier said than done for rural communities such as those AfriKids Ghana works with in Ghana’s Northern and Upper East Regions (UER).
As affirmed by multidimensional poverty indicators, these two regions are amongst some of the most deprived in Ghana, already battling with stark shortages in infrastructure, transport and accessible healthcare facilities, not to mention suitable resourcing and adequate hygiene standards at the latter e.g. sufficiently trained staff and enough of the basic materials and equipment required to prevent/contain a potential Ebola outbreak. AfriKids’ largest social enterprise business, the AfriKids Medical Centre (AfMC), a primary hospital located in the heart of Bolgatanga (the UER’s capital), treating an average of 60,000 patients a year, has a critical role to play, along with other medical facilities in the region, in ensuring the virus is contained should it reach Ghana and the north of the country. In terms of preparation for Ebola, AfMC is working closely with Ghana Health Service (GHS), which has plans to equip all major medical facilities in the region with a dedicated quarantine facility and the necessary equipment to deal with a case should there be one. In the event that a case arrived at the AfMC, the patient would be immediately referred to the Regional Hospital in Bolgatanga, which is the largest multifunctional and specialist facility in the UER.
For the AfriKids Ghana team, its work in preparing and empowering local communities through awareness raising on Ebola is no mean feat and requires thorough planning, with a draw on already stretched resources. For the passionate and dedicated AfriKids Ghana field staff, who base themselves at the heart of the communities they themselves grew up in, piggy backing public health education on Ebola onto their outreach and monitoring work is key, and if you were to visit the region now you would already see signs of messaging reaching some of the most excluded communities, with the ‘Ebola handshake’, for example, replacing the traditional handshake.
Aside from the practical challenges faced by NGOs such as AfriKids, which have a clear role to play in preparing communities they work with/in for a potential Ebola outbreak, AfriKids is now faced with desperately attempting to fill the funding gap which has been created as a result of postponed corporate and donor trips to Ghana. Unfortunately, ours is not an isolated example of the decline in travellers on business and pleasure visiting West Africa, and even the wider continent, in response to Ebola and the heightened panic that comes with media coverage predominantly focused on facts and figures rather than context. Ghana isn’t currently directly bordered with any of the three affected West African countries, yet as our market research indicates, international tourism activity in-country has significantly reduced since media coverage of Ebola has heightened, having a knock-on impact on the country’s wider economy (with tourism representing the third largest foreign currency earning after cocoa and gold).With responsible and immersive educational trips being a central part of our accountability and transparency ethos, as well as one of our primary means of raising funds for AfriKids’ operations, a primary focus for AfriKids UK’s fundraising team is to now secure funds from other means ensuring AfriKids Ghana can deliver its committed project obligations up to the end of the year.
Finally, despite recent small yet valuable breakthroughs made in the media representation of Africa, verified by campaigns such as AfriKids’ ‘Say no to Pity’ and Oxfam’s ‘Lift Lives’, we are once again confronted with harrowing imagery of grief stricken families and corpses in West Africa – portraying funding campaigns such as the newly launched Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) ‘Ebola Crisis Appeal’ as another desperate cry from Africa for aid. This past week has also seen huge coverage of Band Aid 30′s well-meaning but potentially harmful reliance on stereotypes and negative imagery – AfriKids will be commenting on that shortly. These images of course represent the genuine plight of the individual, family and community member living and breathing the hard-hitting consequences of Ebola right now, and assist in drawing global action to confront the virus, yet sadly reinforce negative connotations of Africa as a continent needing aid, not of Ebola as a truly global issue with the potential to impact global health and economy and thus requiring a global response.
Despite the undeniable ongoing challenges faced in tackling Ebola, the coinciding escalation in public education on the importance and necessity for the global community to tackle poverty and minimise such risks to the whole global population, coupled with accelerated investments and improvements in fundamental infrastructure and services, provide for some comfort and hope.
AfriKids’ field staff have added Ebola awareness raising and prevention training to their outreach programmes across northern Ghana. Support us to fund this unforeseen addition to our work by donating here.