The Ebola outbreak overshadows Africa’s remarkable socio-economic progress

THIS WEEK, the World Health Organization announced that more than 2800 people have been killed by Ebola in West Africa. More than 5000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The countries hit by this killer epidemic, Liberia,...

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THIS WEEK, the World Health Organization announced that more than 2800 people have been killed by Ebola in West Africa. More than 5000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The countries hit by this killer epidemic, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea; have all descended into chaos. The images I see on television are heart-wrenching. I see people dying, living in fear; burials, and frustration due to lack of resources to face up to this invisible monster. The outbreak is overshadowing Africa’s remarkable socio-economic progress that has been widely covered by news outlets such as The Economist, TIME and others.

In June last year, my blog acknowledged and hailed Africa’s fastest economic growth. I pointed out that the continent has chosen a path towards prosperity, although a very long, bumpy one. I noted improvements in healthcare, education, economy and other sectors that are key pillars of the continent’s progress. Because of the region’s young population, the future looks promising, I argued. You do need young, productive citizens to propel the continent’s economy to greater heights.

But I also noted that Africa could do better. Poverty remains extreme; the world’s top five failed states, according to Foreign Policy, are in Africa. Corruption, lamented by one of Africa’s very prominent figures, Kofi Annan, is rife. And other challenges I believed Africa still grapples with.

The intent of the article was to concur with The Economist and TIME; that, Africa is making progress, and that the future looks healthy.

But the return of the Ebola at this level is damaging. It derails the affected regions, and the whole continent, into the gutter. It diverts the financial resources that could have been used to develop schools, hospitals, roads etc. into the fight against the deadly disease.

In the affected areas, economic productivity, be it in the informal or formal sector has stalled. In some instances, people have been told to remain indoors for days. It’s a serious blow, especially in the informal sector where most people generate income to spend on food and other needs.

An orphan
A girl cries outside the “Island Clinic,” a new Ebola treatment center that opened in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, on Sept. 23 after the death of her father and mother from the virus. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

What this epidemic highlights, is Africa’s lack of healthcare infrastructure, useful in these circumstances. I watched some of the victims being rushed to hospitals in Monrovia on television. The ambulances were in a terrible condition. The victims were turned away at one of the hospitals because the facility was overcrowded. To me, the nursing staff seemed overwhelmed, less caring. But maybe we should not blame them, the situation is tough.

Over the past 100 years, Africa has been known for extreme poverty, famine, severe droughts, tribal conflicts etc. But in the past ten years, the continent has made significant strides relative to its dark history. Most people from many parts of the world do not know of this fact. Many, especially in the Western world know nothing about the continent’s civilization. When they hear the name “Africa”, they think of the worst place to live at on earth. They do not imagine a region with luxury cars, modern buildings, and modern technology. A serious misconception, is that Africa is still trapped in medieval times – people residing in grass huts, hunting for food, dressed in animal skins. Yes there are places whose populations still live this lifestyle, but it’s a handful. Africa is slowly joining the middle class, and I think everybody must know about that.

What the Ebola is doing, is to reinforce these misconceptions. Sadly, the killer comes at the time when Africa is desperate for economic development. Social stability and healthy citizens are among the foundations of Africa’s prosperous future. With the Ebola sweeping across West Africa, these foundations are shaking.

The outlook is gloomier, if, we do not act fast enough. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the number of Ebola cases could surge to 1.4 million by January 2015, if the international community does not act fast enough to contain the epidemic. It’s a terrifying statistic.

It’s hard to find anything that lasts forever on earth. By that, I mean this shall pass too. At some point things will be fine. What is saddening is that by the time it passes, it would have taken many innocent lives. It is now that a global strategic response is needed. President Barack Obama has said that we haven’t acted fast enough to fight the epidemic. Perhaps he’s right. We are racing against time here, slow responses result in deterioration of the situation. It’s the continent’s image that will suffer a set-back. Misconceptions about Africa will continue. And because this is the hand we are dealt, Africans are faced by an enormous challenge – to prove to the world, that, Africa is joining the modern world. That the continent has many great stories to tell, other than the terrifying Ebola. PM

To God be the Glory.

Ø Youth Coordinator at Free Market Foundation South Africa

Views expressed here are my own; they have nothing to do with Free Market Foundation South Africa


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