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Technology in West AfricaThroughout history, new technology has always been one of the key factors in driving both the economy as a whole, as well as a specific economic sector. New inventions drive new innovations, and as a result, significant advancements are made. Now, technology is driving agriculture in West Africa as well, with both new and familiar ideas paving the way forward. Here are some of the most notable technologies and advancements pushing agricultural expansion in West African countries like Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Clean Energy in Ghana

One of the keys to most modern technology involves energy: sustainable energy, of course, being among the most ideal (and often cheapest) options. Solar power is making electricity available for more and more West Africans every day. There is also a massive project in the works to create a solar power facility in Ghana. Composed of 630,000 photovoltaic modules, the Nzema Solar Power Station will bring electricity to the homes of more than 100,000 Ghanaians. With this clean energy, new technologies that push agriculture and other economic sectors forward can be powered.

Access to Smartphones

Tied closely with the push for energy is the advancement of the smartphone across West Africa. Smartphone ownership has increased to around 30-35 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Smartphones are an absolutely integral driving force for agriculture and technology in West Africa. With access to a smartphone and the internet, farmers can gain easier and more convenient access to information about local markets and upcoming weather forecasts, improving their ability to adapt to shifts in both the environment and the economy. Not only that, but smartphones also allow farmers to purchase insurance and get other financial services, such as banking.

Technologies Boosting Agriculture

In Nigeria, one company named Hello Tractor is making use of the increased spread of smartphones by creating an app designed for renting and sharing tractors with farmers. Farmers can use the app to communicate with nearby owners of tractors, and schedule bookings for the usage of those tractors on specific days. This reduces the barrier of entry to farming as a profession, and as a result is a massive boon to the agricultural sector. With West African companies such as Hello Tractor innovating upon smartphone technology and the Internet of Things, technology in West Africa is once again driving agriculture.

There are also other technologies which may be potentially transformative to agriculture in West Africa. The more recent advancements in 3D printing may offer another pathway to increase efficiency. In West African companies with less intricate transportation infrastructure, 3D printing offers a cheaper way to obtain farming tools by producing them yourself rather than paying expensive shipping fees. In Nigeria, there is a permanent set-up dedicated to manufacturing replacement parts for local industries in order to provide them more efficiently and at a lower cost. The market for this is expanding as well, as there are U.S firms investing in this technology in the region. The installment also offers training programs for local workers so that they can learn the skills necessary to operate such technology.

Another potential, yet controversial advancement is in the sector of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In Ghana particularly, cowpea is a crop prized for its energizing properties, eaten traditionally by farmers before working in the field. However, the crop is dying faster each year due to insects. GMOs could offer one potential path to solving this issue and stabilizing cowpea for West African farmers. Though scientists are still in widespread debate about the safety and usability of genetically modified cowpeas in particular, the technology could regardless offer another potential path to advancement for the West African agricultural sector.

Future for Technology in West Africa

Ultimately, the most important and consistent technology for the future of agriculture in West Africa is found in information technology. Smartphone presence becoming more widespread allows access to market data, weather data, financial services, and even access to rental services like those of Hello Tractor. Western Sydney University is also working on a mobile application specifically streamlined for usage by farmers, providing access to many of these services all in one app.

Overall, it is clear to see that technology is driving agriculture in West Africa. With all of these new advancements, it is reasonable to expect West Africa to continue pushing its agricultural sector forward. With solar power expansion, 3D printing, smartphone access, and rental services like Hello Tractor, the informational landscape of West Africa will be transformed significantly over the next several years.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

Health Care in Ghana

The West African nation of Ghana is a vibrant country filled with natural beauty and rich culture. However, like many of its neighbors in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana suffers from a high poverty rate and lack of access to adequate health care. In fact, according to the Ghana Statistical Service, 23 percent of the total population lives in poverty and approximately 2.4 million Ghanaians are living in “extreme poverty.” That being said, many organizations and groups — both national and global — are working to improve health care in Ghana.

Malaria in Ghana

A disease transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, malaria is a common concern throughout much of West Africa, including Ghana where it is the number one cause of death. In fact, according to the WHO’s most recent World Malaria Report, nearly 4.4 million confirmed malaria cases were reported in Ghana in 2018 — accounting for approximately 15 percent of the country’s total population.

All that in mind, many NGOs, as well as international government leaders, have taken up the mantle to eliminate malaria in Ghana. This includes leadership from the United States under the President’s Malaria Initiative or PMI which lays out comprehensive plans for Ghana to achieve its goal of successfully combating malaria.

With a proposed FY 2019 budget of $26 million, the PMI will ramp up its malaria control interventions including the distribution of vital commodities to the most at-risk citizens. For instance, the PMI aims to ensure that intermittent preventative treatment of pregnant women (IPTp) is more readily accessible for Ghanaian women. Progress has been made, too, as net use of IPTp by pregnant Ghanaian women has risen from 43 percent to 50 percent since 2016. This is just one example of the many ways in which PMI is positively contributing to the reduction and elimination of malaria in Ghana.

National Health Care System

National leaders are also doing their part to positively impact health care in Ghana. In 2003, the government made a huge step toward universal health coverage for its citizens by launching the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). As of 2017, the percentage of the population enrolled in the scheme declined to 35 percent from 41 percent two years prior. However, 73 percent of those enrolled renewed their membership and “persons below the age of 18 years and the informal sector workers had significantly higher numbers of enrolment than any other member group,” according to the Global Health Research and Policy.

It is difficult to truly understand Ghana’s health issues without considering firsthand perspectives. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Enoch Darko, an emergency medicine physician who graduated from the University of Ghana Medical School, commented on some of the health issues that have plagued Ghana in recent decades. “A lot of problems that most third world countries, including Ghana, deal with are parasitic diseases such as malaria and gastroenteritis. Though health issues like diabetes and hypertension still remain in countries around the world, and even the United States, the difference is that some diseases that have been eradicated in Western countries still remain in countries like Ghana,” Darko said. “Many people in Ghana simply do not see a doctor for routine checkups like in the United States. Rather, most people will only go to see a doctor when they are feeling sick. As a result, lesser symptoms may go unchecked, thus contributing to the prevalence and spread of disease and infection. Combined with the fact that many Ghanaians in rural communities may not have sufficient money to afford treatment or medicine, this becomes a cycle for poor or sick Ghanaians.”

That said, it is hoped that with continued support from international players as well as government intervention, the country can continue to make strides in addressing health care for its citizens.

Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

 

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

African CropsGlobally, there are about 7,000 domesticated crops. But, today, just four crops–rice, wheat, soybean and maize–account for two-thirds of the consumed calories worldwide. These crops are incredibly nutrient-hungry and added to the common practice of mono-cropping, which has led to the degradation of a third of the Earth’s soil. It is estimated that the global population in 2050 will increase to 10 billion; food production will have to likewise increase by 50 percent to avoid mass hunger. Many scientists think that previously ignored African crops, aptly nicknamed “orphan crops,” are the answer to preventing the oncoming crisis.

4 Wildly Underrated African Crops

  1. Moringa Trees – Also known as the drumstick tree, Moringa trees are a fast-growing species whose leaves, roots, flowers and seeds can all be used for a variety of purposes including as a dietary supplement, water purifier and food. Eight species of it are native to Eastern African countries and it is also endemic to Southeast Asia. Although completely obscure to most Westerners, it is considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be one of the most economically valuable African crops. The Moringa’s tiny leaves are incredibly nutritious, being filled with antioxidants, iron, vitamin B6 and more, and are generally ground into powders or packed into capsules to serve as a natural dietary supplement. Its seed pods, which can be consumed both raw or cooked, are also exceptionally high in vitamin C: just one cup of them provides 157 percent of the daily requirement. The seed pods can also be processed into a sweet, non-drying oil.
  2. Bambara Murukku – Ranked as the third most important legume of Africa after peanuts and cowpea, the Bambara is grown mostly by subsistence farmers in semi-arid Africa, thus making it known as a poor man’s crop. Its nuts, which are rich in carbohydrates and protein, can be eaten boiled or roasted or ground into a powder to make flour for usage in bread and cakes. Additionally, Bambara groundnut does not require fertilization as it is self nitrogen-fixing, making it an ideal crop for nutrient-poor areas. Furthermore, the plant is drought-tolerant, making it an ideal crop in the face of climate change.
  3. Teff – A staple crop of Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff makes up two-thirds of those residents’ protein intake. Resembling a skinny wheat stalk, its tiny, thin grains are used for making bread and porridges and its straw is often utilized as a construction material for reinforcing mud walls. It comes in a variety of colors, with the white grains considered the most prized and the red grains fetching the lowest price. The demand for teff has been the fastest-growing of all the African crops in this article in recent years with exports rising by 7 to 10 percent annually. This has been largely due to the media hailing it as the next super grain as well as an apt gluten-free flour option. The export of injera, the Ethiopian pancake made out of teff flour, has also enjoyed an upward trend in recent years. Ethiopian companies, such as Mama Fresh, regularly fly their injera overseas to eager customers.
  4. Okra – Although it is disputed whether okra has originated from either West Africa or Southeast Asia, it is generally agreed that it is one of the most important African crops. Grown mainly for their pods and leaves, its fibers can also be used as a construction material, for handicrafts such as baskets or as a kindling fuel. The plant is incredibly adaptable and resilient and can thrive in just about any condition and climate. High in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium but low in calories, the okra has much potential in Western markets as diet food. It has, until recently, been all but unknown outside of its native land. More research and experimentation needs to be conducted on it to unlock its full potential. Currently, researchers are investigating its possibility of being used as a commercial oilseed and medicinal mucilage.

From custard apples to bread trees, there are hundreds more other under-utilized crops in both Africa and around the world. The status quo of the global diet is far too dependent on a mere handful of plants. In order to prepare for and feed the ever-growing population of this planet, people must become more open and adventurous in various culinary tastes by incorporating these orphan crops into daily meals.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

Building Schools Using Recycled Plastics
Education in Cote d’Ivoire continues to be a major challenge in the country which has had a literacy rate of 53.02 percent among 15 to 24-year-olds as of 2014. In fact, more than 2 million children are out of school due to a lack of infrastructure. Classrooms are often full beyond capacity with more than 100 students. Fortunately, West Africa is building schools using recycled plastics as a ground-breaking initiative to change the status quo.

The Fighting Women

Abidjan, a city in Cote d’Ivoire, produces about 288 tons of plastic waste every day. The country recycles only 5 percent of the waste, and when it is, it is usually women that do so informally. These women recover the waste and use it to make money.

A women’s group called The Fighting Women makes a living from collecting plastic and selling it for recycling. However, The Fighting Women is now a part of a project that will not only clean up the environment but will also help improve education. The Fighting Women is an organization of 200 women that collect plastic. A woman named Mariam Coulibaly runs the organization and she has been collecting trash for 20 years. Coulibaly’s organizational skills are what made the project possible. The plastic that these women collect go into bricks in order to build schools.

Conceptos Plasticos

UNICEF in Cote d’Ivoire has partnered with Conceptos Plasticos, a for-profit plastic recycling Colombian company that will turn plastic to bricks and build schools for children. This project will help reduce the issue of overcrowded classrooms and give children the opportunity to attend school.

In 2018, the first African recycled plastic classroom emerged in Gonzagueville. It only took five days to build this classroom as opposed to the nine months it would take to build traditional classrooms. In addition, within the first year, two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo, constructed nine demonstration classrooms. These new classrooms included bricks that are cheaper and lighter than traditional ones, and also last longer.

Before the new plastic classrooms, children would go to school in traditional mud-brick and wood buildings. The mud-brick would erode from the sun and rain, and require repairs constantly. However, the newly built plastic classrooms are way better and longer-lasting. The classrooms are fire retardant and stay cool in warm weather. In addition, the classrooms are waterproof, have excellent insulation and can fight off the heavy wind. UNICEF and Conceptos Plasticos are planning to build 500 classrooms for more than 25,000 children with the most urgent need in the next two years.

Further Success of the Project

On July 29, 2019, a plastic converting factory opened in Cote d’Ivoire, which is also the first of its kind. This factory produces easy to assemble, durable and low-cost bricks others can use to build classrooms. The factory will solve a lot of major education challenges that children in West Africa face. According to UNICEF, kindergarteners from poor areas will be able to join classrooms with less than 100 students for the first time. Once the factory is fully functioning, it will recycle 9,600 tons of plastic waste a year and provide a source of income for women that collect trash. Moreover, there are plans to expand this project to other countries where there is a high percentage of children that are out of school.

Now, children are able to sit comfortably in classes that were once too overcrowded. This project of building schools using recycled plastics has not only constructed classrooms, but it has also reduced plastic waste in the environment. Although there is still a large number of children out of schools, this innovative project to help build schools in West Africa has been tremendously successful and has impacted the lives of many women and children.

Merna Ibrahim
Photo: Flickr

Progress in Benin
Despite a low unemployment rate of one percent and a GDP growth rate that increased from two percent to over five percent from 2015 to 2017, progress in Benin has been slow and it is still a poor country in West Africa. With more than a third of the over 11 million population living below the poverty line, it is difficult for Beninese to live without a feeling of unease. Three major reasons Benin has a rising poverty rate is because of over-reliance in Niger’s economy, the largest exporter, reluctance for Benin to modernize its own economy and climatic shocks, particularly massive floods.

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project

The agriculture sector employs over 70 percent of Beninese. In an effort to boost the economy, the Republic of Benin is investing in improvements in the agriculture sector. The Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project began on March 22, 2011, with a budget of $61 million and ends on February 28, 2021. Its purpose is to repair major damage caused during Benin’s 2010 flood and improve productivity in certain export-oriented value chains, such as aquaculture, maize, rice, cashew and pineapple.

One component of this project is improving technology and restoration of productivity. The devastating flood in 2010 destroyed over 316,000 acres of cropland and 50,000 homes. The project began after the major flood and takes into account the need for drainage systems to stifle rising waters during floods. Small-scale irrigation infrastructure repair and improvement are issues that the project faces and hopes to correct in the timeframe. Climate-smart production systems are another investment that the country is developing to prevent widespread destruction to cropland when a natural disaster threatens to destroy homes and crops. The project is also set to create new jobs by investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially for youth and women.

Improving the Business Environment

Although flooding caused several Beninese people to lose their homes and cropland, there is one impediment that halts economic development: corruption. President Talon became the President of Benin in 2016 and stated in his inaugural address that he would “make the fight against corruption an ongoing and everyday struggle.” A 29 percent electricity access is another issue that prevents developmental progress in Benin, but since 2016 blackouts have reduced and electricity generation has improved significantly.

Economic Diversification

The last major impasse that prevents development in Benin is over-reliance in Nigeria, Benin’s major exporter. Current IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, announced a call for economic diversification in Benin. Lagarde believes diversifying is one way to reduce the high poverty level of 36 percent. Due to the country’s economic reliance on the agricultural sector and economic conditions in Nigeria, it is difficult to grow if a recession, such as the 2017 recession in Nigeria, occurs. In her speech at the Chamber of Commerce in Cotonou, Benin, Lagarde discussed how Benin could strengthen land tenure, increase food security in rural areas and invest more in education and health, and improve transparency in the government so that outside investors would find investing in Benin appealing.

Rate of Progress in Benin

There is room for growth, though the poverty-stricken nation has had success in certain areas, such as the average life expectancy that rose from 50 years in 2000 to 62 in 2018. With the creation of the Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project, improvements in agriculture and infrastructure are already underway. The estimated rate of urbanization is fairly high at 3.89 percent from 2015 to 2020. At this rate of progress in Benin and under the leadership of President Talon, the country will continue its headway in development so that the percentage of Beninese in poverty will gradually drop in the coming years.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Cabo VerdeThe Republic of Cabo Verde is a country comprised of 10 islands off the coast of West Africa. In 2012, the government planned to drastically increase its desalination system in order to improve water capacity and consumption and to meet the demands of the country’s rising tourism industry. Since this plan to improve water sanitation and availability of this country’s precious resource, water quality in Cabo Verde has improved in 2017, through government cooperation and local partnership.

Though Santiago, one of Cabo Verde’s islands, already had a desalination plant implemented, the government suggested at least eight more plants be installed in order to satisfy the resident and growing tourist populations. At the time of the government’s 2012 plan to invest in major water quality improvement, reports showed that with the island’s 500,000 citizens and high volume of tourists, sources of water were already limited. Cabo Verde is a dry country and doesn’t receive much rain, so the country’s ministry of environment made it a goal to build a desalination plant for every island, as part of the National Directive Plan for Water.

The ministry hoped that over the next five years, 400 million euros, paired with a $66.2 million grant from the U.S. foreign aid agency, plus additional funding from the EU and the U.N., would significantly contribute to the country’s goal to have 50 percent of its energy supplied by renewable sources by the year 2020.

In March 2017, just five years since the start of the desalination and sanitation system implementation, Cabo Verde’s driest islands are seeing major victories, and some of the country’s most vulnerable populations are seeing the biggest difference. Santa Maria, a high-traffic tourist and travel location in Sal on Cape Verde, saw the inauguration of a 2010 Wastewater Treatment Plant. With the help of new management and a working operating system that connects to local sewage networks, the plant is now fully functioning.

The new system for delivering clean, available and affordable water will make lives on Cabo Verde a little easier. Most poor families can’t afford to access water through the island’s utility networks, and some are miles apart, making clean water retrieval hard on locals. Poor women spend the most time collecting water for each household, but some more rural areas of the country have very little access — a mere 16 percent of the country ever sees this water.

Because of improved water quality in Cabo Verde, residents are feeling confident about running their households, thanks to government funding and water treatment plants throughout the country. Some locals say having sanitary and accessible water is most important in keeping their families healthy.

Cabo Verde’s tourism economy is also expected to improve with efforts to keep sanitized water flowing. As the industry provides jobs for more than one-third of the population, it is vital that the Cabo Verde government keep water sanitation at its highest priority, so that cleaner beaches bring tourists back again and again.

The government plans to designate a water improvement sector fund specifically for the water treatment facilities, upon its success. With further plans like this, water quality in Cabo Verde will continue to show signs of improvement.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

Gambia
Last month, the African nation of The Gambia swore in its first-ever democratically elected president, Adama Barrow. The incumbent president took power after a month-long constitutional crisis in which former president Yahya Jammeh rejected election results and refused to leave his seat.

Initially, Jammeh accepted the 2016 election results until Dec. 10, when he declared his rejection of Barrow and refusal to cede power in The Gambia. The announcement incited political uproar within The Gambia. The uproar was so intense that Barrow, fearing for his safety, fled to Senegal.

Barrow was eventually sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, and returned to The Gambia with a number of West African troops. On the same day Barrow was sworn in, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana attempted to restore power in The Gambia through military intervention.

The power shift was celebrated in the Gambian capital of Banjul where the conflict had generated fear for the security of many citizens’ lives amongst the turmoil.

Jammeh, who ruled the nation for over 22 years, was exiled to Equatorial Guinea after he finally stepped down in late January.

This shift of power in The Gambia may symbolize the strengthening infrastructure of politics within the African continent. Other nations’ decisions to rally behind the election results and defend Barrow’s ascent to power in The Gambia is recognition of a standard for good governance.

While the events in The Gambia do not signify themselves a wholehearted embracement of democracy, they certainly set a precedent for alliance and administration across the continent.

With rulers like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, both who have held power in their respective nations for over a decade, it is clear that there has been a continual problem with leaders who refuse to step down following the results of democratic elections.

There is still a long way to go as it seems the Economic Community of West African States enforces election results selectively. However, the shift of power in The Gambia signifies a positive development in the political dichotomy prevalent on the African continent.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

New Ebola Vaccine Gives Hope
In 2014, West Africa saw the largest Ebola outbreak in history; more than 11,000 people died, and the disease infected more than 27,000 people. Ebola has a very high mortality rate; it kills up to 70 percent of its victims. An immense amount of fear surrounds this disease. In 2014, four cases of Ebola were reported in the United States, including two who contracted the disease on U.S. soil. The rampant global spread of the disease caught the medical community off guard, but it was not the first time they had searched for a solution.

Unfortunately, the Ebola vaccine research from 1974-2014 did not yield promising results, and the treatments for the disease were difficult and labor-intensive. Medical teams would enter an infected area, would separate the sick from those that had not been infected and they would burn the bodies of those that perished from the disease. The protective gear to prevent the medical staff from infection is difficult to wield and can be risky. The need for a vaccine was critical.

As the disease ravaged West Africa in 2014, researchers began working on a vaccine. Clinical trials for two vaccines began in 2014, but there were ethical concerns. The trials had to be expedited because of the aggressive nature of the disease and how many people were infected. The funding for Ebola treatments remained flat from 2004, and the challenges were immense.

In July 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement saying that a vaccine developed and tested by Merck, Sharp & Dohme “is highly effective against Ebola.” The rapid work created a turning point in the fight against Ebola.

The Ebola vaccine uses an interesting methodology to stop the spread of the virus because the virus is so virulent, and it spreads so quickly. The vaccine is designed with a “ring” method meaning that every person that has come into contact with an Ebola patient is vaccinated. This stops the virus from spreading further.

The promise of the vaccine was validated in December 2016, as The Lancet reported final results from a Guinea trial that showed that the new Ebola vaccine shows 100 percent effectiveness. While it was not able to stop the last outbreak, an emergency stockpile of 300,000 doses has been developed in hopes of stopping the next outbreak. Merck must now apply to the WHO for full approval, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will likely be tapped for licensing.

The vaccine may not be effective against all strains of Ebola, but it shows great promise to prevent a catastrophic outbreak like the one in 2014, and it gives hope to the nations that have been devastated by the disease.

Jennifer Graham

Photo: Flickr

Ebola Outbreak
Following the mismanagement of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, international health organizations pledge to reform crisis response.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 24 outbreaks since the endemic disease was first identified over 40 years ago.

The 2014 outbreak in West Africa was the third spread of the 20th century. The effects ravaged the ill-prepared communities of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Over 28,000 cases were reported, nearing a death total of over 11,000.

The West African region had not encountered an Ebola outbreak before 2014. Inexperience, along with inadequate local health facilities and distrust among the local community aided in the severity of the outbreak in Ghana.

The international community’s response also contributed to the haphazard spread throughout the region and eventually the world.

A panel of 19 global health and hygiene experts attributed the 11,300 West African deaths as an “egregious failure” of the WHO and a clear indication of the necessity to implement serious healthcare response reform.

The director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), Ashish Jha, cited the WHO’s intentionally delayed response as negligible, stating that, “People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring, and yet it took until August to declare a public health emergency.”

The WHO acknowledged the need for healthcare reform during the April 16, 2015 press release — citing the importance of increased capacity, communication, coordination, sensitivity and community/culture in future crisis response efforts. The WHO, however, was not the only international body cited for response failure.

The Heritage Foundation found the United States government crisis response efforts as internally lackluster and externally reactionary.

In order to prevent an outbreak of this magnitude, the WHO has committed to implement comprehensive health care response reforms. The corrections include: expanding staff members; creating a Global Health Emergency Workforce; establishing a contingency fund and increasing community engagement.

The mismanagement during the Ebola outbreak highlights the need for action beyond the healthcare response reform. Foreign assistance before and after a health crisis is the most effective way to avoid international health crises.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr