Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Human Security in Practice: Securing People from the Threat of Epidemic-What Can We Learn from the Ecowas Response to Ebola?

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Human Security in Practice: Securing People from the Threat of Epidemic-What Can We Learn from the Ecowas Response to Ebola?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

A recent case count of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the total number of deaths at 9 194 (CDC, 12 February 2015). Still counting, these figures will not be the last as the people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone continue to battle the Ebola virus day by day. Until a community or a country spends 42 days (double the 21-day incubation period of the Ebola virus) without a new case and the last patient in isolation becomes laboratory negative, that country or community will not be declared Ebola-free (CDC 2015). Attaining this status has been the goal of many communities affected by Ebola in West Africa today. There are many stakeholders who share this goal and are working to help the communities. The focus of this commentary is, however, on the role played by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in tackling Ebola. The Ebola epidemic is, in the first instance, a regional concern for ECOWAS, affecting three of its member states and threatening the others. Although ECOWAS has played an important role in the fight against Ebola, the narratives of other more resourced stakeholders, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) agencies, have largely overshadowed this effort. This commentary therefore, examines the ECOWAS response by answering the following questions: how did ECOWAS respond to the Ebola virus? What lessons can be learned from the response? Using a timeline analysis, it argues that ECOWAS played a leading role in tackling the disease. However, the response of ECOWAS was hampered by its initial approach of over-reliance on the member states and their institutions, most of which lack adequate capacity, to control and contain the virus, and then by the slow process of adapting the response to regional interventionism.

2. Ebola: A threat to human security?

More than violence, deadly, communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola threaten humanity in an unprecedented way. On Ebola, the head of WHO, Margaret Chan, said:

I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries, I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure (The BBC, 13 October 2014).

This statement underscores the human security implication of deadly diseases, and rightly supports an expanded conceptualisation of security. Ebola not only threatens the lives of the people, but also the survival of the state. Without a healthy, productive population, state survival is imperilled.

The Ebola virus disease (EVD), also known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans (WHO 2014). The origin of Ebola virus has been traced to wild animals, which transmits the virus to people, and then unleashes a chain of human-to-human transmission. The fatality rate is as high as 90 per cent in the recent outbreaks (WHO 2014). It has been proven that with early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment, a victim's chance of survival improves, even though no licensed treatment has been established yet (WHO 2014). EVD is not a new phenomenon. Its history dates back to 1976, when it first appeared simultaneously in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (WHO 2014). The name Ebola came from a river in DRC where the case was recorded. Early detection, control and management are key in fighting the disease. Therefore, community engagement is key to successfully controlling Ebola (WHO 2014). When Ebola broke out in West Africa in December 2013, most of the affected communities did not know what it was, and thus, resorted to superstition. Some people attributed it to a mysterious snake, while others believed it was witchcraft (Estrada 2014). Many of these people then turned to traditional healers for help (Mueller 2014). However, since the information on the virus became available in March 2014, global efforts have been on to tackle it. …

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