West Africa: Companies Fill Gaps in Ebola Response

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When United States Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac needed help last month to support the arrival of international health workers, she turned to a private-sector group that had already inventoried their resources for a coordinated response to Ebola.

Malac told the corporate group that teams from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization needed to get to southeastern Liberia, a largely undeveloped region of forests and rivers, far from most basic services. Finding safe accommodation posed a problem, and communications, transportation and logistics could also be difficult, she said.

The response was swift.

Within hours, David Rothschild, executive director of agribusiness firm Golden Veroleum Liberia, which has palm oil operations in the country’s southeast, offered housing he described as clean but “rudimentary” in two counties, Sinoe and Grand Kru.

William Cook, operations director of gold-mining companyHummingbird Resources, offered housing in a guest house with electricity and running water – rare amenities in the remote region – near the town of Greenville and in an exploration camp further inland.

In neighboring Sierra Leone, U.S. acting ambassador Kathleen Fitzgibbons cited the need for road grading and site preparation for an Ebola treatment center in the iron-ore producing town of Lunsar, which would be operated by the International Medical Corps. Within hours, London Mining, with heavy equipment available, came to the rescue, cutting weeks or more from the construction process.

The prompt corporate response is the result of a months-long preparatory process to coordinate actions that began with aggressive programs information and education programs. Since March, when the Ebola threat re-emerged in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, after a relatively small rural outbreak earlier in the year, companies with operations in the area had been preparing for an emerging crisis. By month’s end, the disease had spread to Guinea’s capital Conakry and was on the move through Liberia.

Companies forge Ebola collaboration

Four months before the World Health Organization declared Ebola a public health emergency on 8 August, the leaders of international companies with operations in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were evaluating their options for combating what they realized was a looming threat. Some of them started sharing information and ideas.

“Companies began doing what they do best,” said Dr. Alan Knight, a scientist and Managing Director at ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company. “That includes understanding the impact on our own people and getting them to an awareness of how to protect themselves and their families. And we looked at the assets we had that we could use against the outbreak on our own patch.”

After informal discussions in Washington, D.C. in early August, at the time of the U.S. African Leaders Summit, companies with operations and employees in the three most-affected countries were polled and a common spreadsheet – still being expanded and updated– was developed to show who has buildings, vehicles, communications infrastructure, machinery and health facilities and where they are located. Country teams were formed, with ArcelorMittal taking the lead in Liberia, London Mining in Sierra Leone and Rio Tinto andAlcoa in Guinea. Other companies volunteered services central to emergency planning and implementation.

Washington DC-based communications and strategic planning firmKRL International has helped connect the corporate group to the global response. “Some of these companies have nation-wide logistics and supply chains tested over a decade,” said KRL founder and managing director Riva Levinson. “Many of them have thousands of trained personnel. Attaching these resources to the global deployment against Ebola can help bend the curve of the virus’s spread away from the worst-case projection of 1.4 million by January.”

Arcelor’s London office organized two conference calls in August, followed by a third on 1 September. Participants on the second call included dozens of corporate executives, diplomats, representatives of first-responder health organizations working in the three most-affected countries and Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, a Geneva-based United Nations entity.

Although the discussion was polite and respectful, both health workers and company officials expressed frustration at what they saw as the failure of governments and global health institutions to mount an adequate response to a catastrophe in the making.

Pushing for greater response

“We were getting better at doing what we could do with our own people,” said Knight, who oversees Arcelor’s corporate responsibility and sustainability programs. “But at that stage, the advocacy role developed.”

The same day, James Dorbor Jallah, the national coordinator of Liberia’s Ebola Task Force, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Ebola is moving at the speed of sound and the aid organizations are moving at the speed of a snail.”

In an interview aired on the NBC television program ‘Meet the Press’ on 8 September, President Barak Obama said that two months earlier he had told his national security staff that Ebola was a top priority. He announced an assistance package that included over 3000 military personnel to implement the plan.

This is to clarify the facts regarding measures UNMIL has undertaken to ensure no further transmission of EVD after one … see more »

Culled from allafrica.com

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