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Growing concerns about Ebola in Africa

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There is a growing concerns about the effect of Ebola not only on its victims but on the entire health system.  In the 3 African countries mostly affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the meager resources for the entire health system are deployed to tackle Ebola. Health workers are constrains due to fewer equipped facilities and infrastructures to handle the problem very well. If you are following international happenings, you will notice the frustration of United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon regarding fund raising and the commitment of donor countries to finance an emergency response to Ebola. Funds are not forth coming but only promises and promises.

Recently UNFPA had a cause to raise a strong alarm about the effect of Ebola and Safe motherhood in a press release titled ‘Ebola Wiping out Gains in Safe Motherhood’ with a theme ‘More than 800,000 pregnant women face much greater risk in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone’ on 16th October 2014. It observed that as the world intensifies its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the needs of pregnant women must be addressed urgently to save the lives of mothers and infants.

“The reality is that pregnant women are facing a double threat – dying from Ebola and from pregnancy or childbirth, due to the devastating impact of Ebola on health workers and health systems,” said UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. “Ebola is not only killing those infected, but also those affected.  Pregnant women and girls are at greater risk.”

UNFPA estimates that more than 800,000 women in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would give birth in the next 12 months. All will require antenatal, delivery and postnatal care and related emergency obstetric support. But many pregnant women are afraid to visit, or are turned away from, overstretched health facilities, which puts them and their babies’ lives at risk. Of these women, more than 120,000 could die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth, if the required life-saving emergency obstetric care is not urgently provided.

“The situation for pregnant women in Ebola crisis countries is devastating. Gains in maternal health and family planning are being wiped out and women are desperate for information and services to protect their health and that of their babies,” added Dr. Osotimehin. “Today, I call for urgent funding to meet the reproductive health needs of women and mothers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”

Furthermore, it has been estimated that 1.2 million women of childbearing age may lack access to the family planning services they require. This will increase the number of unexpected pregnancies in these countries. The news quoted UNFPA estimating that that $64.5 million is needed to provide reproductive and maternal health services in the next three months in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Before Ebola struck, the health systems in these countries were steadily improving and significant gains had been made in terms of increased access to maternal health and family planning services.  However, most of these gains have been wiped out due to a breakdown in many aspects of the public health system.

UNFPA’s response is integrated into the newly formed United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER). The Fund is also a member of the Global Ebola Response Coalition.

It is this Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER) that United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki Moon expressed concerns and frustration that donor countries aren’t responding as they should. However looking at what development partners and donor countries commit at the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2014, I am not surprise that funds from them for Ebola aren’t coming as fast as it should be. They mobilized up to $4.46 billion to accelerate Health-related Millennium Development Goals and end all preventable deaths of women and children. At a high-level Every Woman Every Child event held on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, heads of state, business leaders, philanthropists, UN officials and civil society announced joint action including new financing and specific support to countries in an effort to save and improve the lives of millions of women and children and accelerate progress to achieving the health MDG before the end of 2015.

“Under the ground-breaking Every Woman Every Child partnership model, we are finding new, creative solutions and expanding new partnerships that are saving lives. The world is reducing deaths of children under the age of five faster than at any time in the past two decades. In today’s troubled world, our progress in this area shines brightly. It demonstrates what can be achieved when we come together as a community in partnership,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “For the first time ever, we have the opportunity to end all preventable deaths of women and children within a generation. I call on all of you to renew your commitments, boost financing, keep insisting on accountability for resources and results, and reach every woman and every child.”

Having said that, can Africa looks within to also mobilize funds for Ebola Response? Do we have to look always outside like Oliver twist for support? Where are the richest guys and businesses in Africa? Where are the Dangotes, Mo Ibrahims, Globacom, MTN and many rich commercial banks? With an innovative engagement of these rich enterprises and efficient fund raising and management indeed Africa can and should mobilize resources to complement what comes from Donor Countries to tame Ebola.

It is time to act as Ebola is everyone headache.

This article is 1st published in Daily Trust Newspaper of 21st  Oct 2014 by Dr Aminu Magashi Garba, Coordinator Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN). He can be reached at healthweekly@yahoo.com and followed @HReporters


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