Saturday, 28 February 2015

Six lessons from the initial failed international response to Ebola

The Ebola virus has killed more than 9,000 people – about 2,000 in Guinea, 3,000 in Sierra Leone and 4,000 in Liberia. The outbreak started in Guinea in December 2013, but the Ebola crisis really started in April 2014 when it began to spread.

The initial international response was deemed “totally inadequate” by British MPs. Since then efforts have improved, but here are six lessons that can be learned from the problematic initial response – from the problems highlighted by the MPs – and especially pertinent to those states that have the capacity to react to epidemics.

1. Trust NGOs and build WHO expertise

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) alerted governments as early as April 2014 about the Ebola problem, but it was not until August that year that the World Health Organisation declared Ebola a public health emergency. MSF was right about the scale of the problem. A witness at the House of Commons, Fergus Drake, who is Director of Global Programmes at Save the Children, said: “MSF have been the real heroes, in terms of people on the ground and the scale of their response.”

The four-month absence of reaction by the WHO had terrible consequences for the areas affected by the Ebola virus, in a large part because governments which had aid programmes that could be used for epidemics chose to follow the advice of the WHO.

If the international community had reacted straight away, the outbreak could have been contained. States should rely on the expertise of doctors on the ground, or make sure that the WHO has a similar level of expertise if that is the advice they want to follow. And the WHO should not replicate the work conducted by NGOs.

2. Improve health facilities

The international community should address the fact that medical facilities were insufficient in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. At the outset of the outbreak, there were only 40 doctors for a total of 4m people in Liberia, 120 doctors for 6m people in Sierra Leone, and 1,200 for 12m people in Guinea. Senegal and Nigeria, which reacted as soon as people were diagnosed with Ebola, have a more developed infrastructure of medical services, and local doctors were able to respond to the Ebola outbreak. In Nigeria, experience working to eradicate polio particularly helped.

However, in general, more doctors are desperately needed in the following states, which have fewer than 100 doctors for 1m people: Guinea, Ghana, Congo, Mali, Cameroon, Timor Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Benin, Senegal, Togo, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Eritrea, Lesotho, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Chad, Somalia, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Niger, Liberia, and Tanzania.

To put this into context: the United Kingdom and the United States respectively have 2,800 and 2,400 doctors for 1m people.

3. Plan logistical responses

The UK had no detailed contingency plan for a sudden medical emergency. According the parliamentary report, when the Ebola crisis was in full swing the UK could only send 55 health professionals to stricken countries, whereas Cuba committed 165 at various grades to work in the UK-funded treatment centres.
The British government relied on Save the Children to run Ebola facilities, but this NGO had never done this before, and the first facility was only set up in November 2014.

Funding – for example for aid – is one thing but expertise that can be deployed by international actors and especially local actors in emergencies is also important. The Department for International Development and other funding organisations could focus their aid on education and health facilities. China, for instance, opened a hospital in Sierra Leone in 2012 and in Liberia in 2011 and 2014.

4. Follow scientific advice

The United Kingdom, the United States and France revoked the licences of planes with direct flight paths to the regions where people were ill with Ebola, despite the absence of scientific justification for doing so. This made it harder for NGOs and doctors to access the region. The Ebola crisis led to unnecessary panic in the United States, but it is the responsibility of governments to look at the science and reassure rather than add to it.

5. Recognise states that contribute

And shame those who do not contribute enough. Until now, the UK and the US have been the most involved in committing funds to fight the Ebola virus. However, taking into consideration the population of each state, the British donated twice as much as the Americans. The states lagging behind have been Germany, France, Canada and especially Italy. Ebola is a threat to all people in the world: every donor, and not only former colonising states, should be engaged in fighting the virus.

6. Pharma should cover range of vaccines

One of the reasons why there was no vaccine for Ebola was that it concerned few people in remote areas in African states. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, said that Ebola vaccine was never developed “because it only affected poor African countries”.

Ebola was not the priority of governments and pharmaceutical companies. Research on Ebola has been conducted in North America, Europe, China and Africa. However, more research is needed, and vaccines against viruses such as Ebola or Marburg should be commercialised, and made available cheaply.

This article was first published in The Conversation:

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Biggest French banks in tax havens

According to a report by the European Network on Debt and Development:
  • One third of the foreign subsidiairies of the five largest French banks are located in tax havens;
  • 26% of French banks international turnover are located in tax havens;
  • Subsidiaries in tax havens are mainly specialised in investment solutions, structured finance and asset management. Their retail activities are a lot less important than in other countries (two times less than in other countries for BNP-Paribas, 3 times less for Credit Agricole);
  • Employees of banks located in tax havens are two times more profitable than employees located in other countries (more than 3 times for Societe Generale and 13 times for the BPCE Irish employee);
  • Luxembourg is the favourite tax haven of French banks: 117 of their subsidiairies are located in Luxemburg (followed by Belgium, Hong Kong and Switzerland);
  • The Cayman Islands are the black hole of banking business, with a very disparate turnover (sometimes negative), fifteen subsidiaries for the major French banks and no employees; and
  • Tax havens are more attractive than emerging countries: the turnover of French banks in emerging countries is 5 times less important in the BRICS than in tax havens.

The UN questioning the efficiency of humanitarian aid

Source: Afghanistan: Stacking USAID-Donated Wheat Afghan men are stacking bags of wheat that was donated by USAID. Photographer: Nitin Madhav Photographer's Organization: USAID Location of Photograph (City, Country): Afghanistan. wikicommons.

The United Nations is preparing the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit which will take place in Istanbul. Today, discussions are ongoing in London on the future of humanitarian aid. They are conducted by the following participants:  UN agencies, international and national NGOs, Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations, academics, private sector companies, government representatives and the people affected by crises themselves.

According to IRIN, here are the main issues which have been raised:

  • Counter-terrorism legislation needs to be reviewed so that it does not limit aid delivery to people in conflict zones controlled by armed groups.
  • Local NGOs and organisations should receive a fixed percentage of funding in a crisis –the amount is still up for debate.
  • Mandate should not necessarily trump capacity and access. It’s time to let the most able and suitable organisation respond, rather than rely on hierarchical structures.
  • A number of international NGOs have called for a formal re-affirmation of humanitarian principles.  
  • Attitudes towards local organisations need to change. They should be equal partners not sub-contractors. UN agencies and large NGOs should accept that national players may know more about a context than they do.
  • Funding needs to be more flexible and longer-term, especially in constantly evolving conflict situations. NGOs should be able to plan their response based on need, not donor priorities.
  • A call for a new policy relating to internally displaced people in the Middle East, following on from the Kampala Convention for IDPs in Africa. 
  • Innovation is important but donors need to share some of the financial risk and be more open to untested ideas.
  • Political solutions should be a priority of governments and the UN Security Council in order to facilitate the end to conflict, displacement and humanitarian suffering.
  • Aid actors need to recognize the capacity and agency of affected people, instead of just seeing them as voiceless victims.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

UEFA: arrogance and apathy towards violence and destruction of art

For the Europa League match between Feyenoord Rotterdam and Rome, six Dutch police officers had been sent to Rome to assist 100 Italian police officers already present . Hooligans supporting the Feyenoord Rotterdam football club damaged the recently renovated fountain of Bernini, the Barcaccia (leaky old boat). Approximately 30 hooligans were arrested .

Eric Gudde, the general director of Feyenoord, said he felt ‘disgust and shame’ after the incident. But UEFA will not discipline Feyenoord, as ‘they can do nothing about it’. Really, UEFA, is this the best you can do? For a start, how about making a symbolic gesture, and pay for the damage? Then, why not exclude hooligans from all matches?

Bernini’s fountain was built in 1627-29. In 1644, cardinal and poet Maffeo Barberini, who later became Pope Urbano VIII, wrote the following poem:

 'The papal warship does not pour forth flames, but sweet water to extinguish the fire of war.'
Maybe hooligans could be given a copy of Urbano’s poems, and only released from jail once they have translated them.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

EU easing sanctions on Zimbabwe

The European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002. In 2013, it lifted a ban on diamonds from the Marange fields. In February 2015, it offered an aid package worth € 234 million to spend on health, agriculture and governance issues. The funds will be used by UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and not by the Zimbabwean government. The arms embargo, and the travel ban on Mugabe and his wife are still in force.

For the Zimbabwean economic analyst, Vince Musewe, the European Union should not lift its sanctions. In 2014, he said:

Your humanitarian aid is much appreciated and I know that you continue to have concern for the poor and sick and the hopeless and the helpless. For that I am grateful. However, we need you to support democratic forces in our country than to give us handouts. We need your moral support of uprooting this dictatorship more so now than ever. We need you to strengthen our people so that they may fight for what is right. That is the right thing to do.

But EU analysts say that EU sanctions have damaged citizens and not political leaders in Zimbabwe. According to them, the ‘European Union has decided it couldn’t allow the situation to deteriorate any further.’ 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Reporters without borders 2015


In particular, in Europe:

According to RSF, 'the European Unions recorded a bigger decline in 2015 than in the 2014 Index, exposing the limits of its “democratic model” and highlighting the inability of its mechanisms to halt the erosion. The EU appears to be swamped by a certain desire on the part of some member states to compromise on freedom of information. As a result, the gaps between members are widening – EU countries are ranked from 1st to 106th in the Index, an unprecedented spread.'