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Canada Must Talk Ebola at the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting

03/17/2015 06:04 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT
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Blood collection tube with Ebola test label held by technician.

The worst outbreak of Ebola in history continues to affect communities in West Africa, with a total of 116 new confirmed cases reported in the week to March 8, 2015.

Ebola has infected nearly 24,000 people and killed almost 10,000, mainly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

However, the impacts of Ebola extend far beyond the borders of the worst-affected countries. For example, the UN Development Group now predicts the following for the West African region: per capita income will fall by $18 per year between 2015 and 2017; and an average loss of at least $3.6 billion per year will occur between 2014 and 2017 due to border closures, flight cancellations, reduced foreign direct investment, and reduced tourism.

According to Ayodele Odusola, chief economist for the United Nations Development Programme Africa, "Rural communities, women, and the poor who make a living in informal trade are likely to be hit the hardest. If you look at Guinea, almost 85 percent of the potato trade with Sierra Leone is done by women, but because of the border closure, this activity was completely paralyzed."

Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are forecast to lose 12 per cent of their combined gross domestic product this year, according to World Bank estimates.

But Canada and the international community have a chance to learn lessons from the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola and to intervene to help prevent future outbreaks, to strengthen health sectors across the region, and to help the worst-affected countries recover economically and socially.

Previously in September 2014, the G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement on the Ebola crisis: "We express our readiness to assist the affected countries in their fight against Ebola as well as their efforts to cope with Ebola-induced challenges such as shortages in the provision of non-Ebola basic healthcare, shortages in food and budgetary constraints."

The statement emphasized the importance of rebuilding health systems following the containment of the disease so as to establish capacity to prevent, detect and respond to other outbreaks in the future. The upcoming G7 Foreign Ministers meeting during April 14-15, 2015, at Lübeck would be ideal to kick-start discussions, as the German government has put the issue of the prevention and treatment of neglected and poverty-related diseases on the agenda for the summit in Bavaria during June 7-8, 2015.

Clearly Ebola must qualify as a neglected disease, given that Ebola was known for almost 40 years, yet there was no vaccine and no cure.

G7 Foreign Ministers should champion a rigorous approach to go beyond reducing transmission, to stopping the disease completely, to enabling societies to manage the consequences of the outbreak, and to preventing future outbreaks.

The latter will require a combination of regional and national interventions, including establishment of early warning and disaster management systems, strengthened health sectors across the region, and the creation of a regional centre for disease control and prevention.

The G7 Foreign Ministers should also champion getting children back to school, farmers back to fields, businesses back up and running, investors back to countries, and development back on track. Will Canada raise Ebola at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting?

The international community missed Ebola this past year, and took action too late, despite the early warnings by Médecins Sans Frontières.

We simply must be better prepared to respond next time, and to ensure that Africa never suffers on such an extraordinary scale ever again.

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