Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps

Gregory Marks

Current Oxford MBA student Gregory Marks gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps’.

What if I told you that never again was just around the corner? What if I told you that next time may involve a disease that spreads like the flu and kills like Ebola? And what if I told you that we have an incredible opportunity to make sure that next time around, we’re ready?

Ebola has provided us with an opportunity and an imperative to ensure that the next epidemic is not a death sentence just because it strikes where those are least prepared. Ebola has provided us with an opportunity to act, from the grass roots level to the ministries of health, and all the way up to the international stage. Ebola has provided us with an opportunity to ensure that those who died did not do so in vein.

Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps, L-R: Richard Besser, Miatta Gbanya and Paul Farmer

Echoing the sentiments of Ms. Miatta Gbayna, the incredible Liberian nurse who now heads up the Health Sector Pool Fund to rebuild the Liberian health system, we would be wise to begin our preparations at the local level. The blood of an Ebola patient from Guinea shouldn’t have needed to travel through the tropical rain forests and across country borders to reach a testing facility which could confirm a positive reading, only after it was already too late. From the development of proper laboratories and isolation facilities on the ground to the empowerment and educational wisdom which comes along with well organised public health campaigns, the value of local health capacity is immeasurable.

When the infinitely wise Dr. Paul Farmer speaks, the global health community listens. Armed with powerful examples from Rwanda and Haiti, it is entirely possible for the poorest of countries to develop strong and sustainable health systems. As Dr. Eric Goosby reminded us, the current drive for health systems strengthening is largely embodied in the UN supported movement for Universal Health Coverage. It is at the country-level, under the jurisdiction of ministries of health, he argues that progress must be made. Both Dr. Farmer and Dr. Goosby would very likely agree that it is the investment not only in health, but also in health equity, that will bring about the changes necessary to prepare us for the next epidemic. Being poor or from a rural and remote village shouldn’t make it right for someone to go without health care, and it is when this sentiment is realised that we begin to pick up on and isolate infectious diseases well before they reach epidemic proportions.

Despite all of our best efforts, health experts agree that it will likely not be long before the next global epidemic is before us. It is at this point, when a disease has spread across international borders and has become more than a national concern, that the global community must be ready to act. As was pointed out by Mr. Anthony Banbury, the next time around we must be quicker, smarter, and more capable of handling what nature has thrown at us. Strong international governance will be imperative to ensuring epidemic control and saving countless lives. At this level of global governance, we do not yet have all of the answers. On the front lines of the next epidemic, will it be a UN agency, an NGO, or both that bravely run in when everything has seemingly fallen apart? Just as local, regional, and national organisations must do, as an international community we must work together to find solutions to challenging and life saving questions to ensure that we are prepared, as never again should never again be what now.