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Is Ebola Response Repeating Mistakes in Haiti?

By Molly Anders
January 14, 2015

(Click here to view the original article.)

As the international Ebola response approaches the “last mile” in Liberia, experts worry the laser focus of foreign aid efforts on achieving zero Ebola cases could hurt, or even crowd out Liberia’s own efforts to rebuild.

The concern is an eerie echo of what happened five years ago after the Haiti earthquake, when a blitz of aid organizations created chaos and delayed disaster relief projects, potentially derailing national efforts to rebuild.

“The money for Ebola is not actually coming to Liberia.” the Liberian minister of public works, W. Gyude Moore, said at a Center for Global Development event on a post-Ebola Liberia.

“And in terms of Ebola response, the aid infrastructure to respond to Ebola does not translate into permanent structures, most of them are tents, it’s going to be very different to imagine a more permanent response,” Moore added.

Just as the Haitian government was quick to propose multiyear plans for rebuilding infrastructure, Liberia will propose its post-Ebola health plan later this month. Moore put forth his own signature initiative called Roads to Health, a plan to pave Liberia’s roads with more consideration for the remote location of health clinics.

Another strategy, based on a Clinton Health Initiative project implemented in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, will use a rotating faculty from 26 American universities to train Liberian health staff. Moore said the plan will cost $270 million over 10 years. Moore and other experts, including Amanda Glassman, the director of global health policy and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, fear that overzealous aid groups, while well-intentioned, could derail these national ambitions.

“Comparing Haiti five years on and [the Ebola] response, there is a similar magnitude financially,” she told Devex, “I fear we’re going to be the ‘republic of NGOs’ Haiti-style all over again.”

Taking the stated “zero cases” approach literally could make matters worse. With aid organizations too focused on eliminating the disease, Glassman explained, they could lose sight of other issues and opportunities to make Liberia more aid-independent. “Zero cases, yes that can be the goal,” she said, “but we can’t wait to do the rest until zero cases.”