Instead of talking about how to advance your career, today I'm going to share perspectives on Ebola based on what I've learned from my work creating communication campaigns for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and visits to public health clinics in Gaza, Palestine, and Mirebalais, Haiti (where I took the above picture).
This Is Different - Taking a New Look at Global Public Health
Maybe I sound like Chicken Little, but a big piece of the sky has fallen on people in West Africa, and the fissures are heading our way. Running around like a frightened chicken won't help, but perhaps we should look up. With the exception of organizations like Doctors Without Borders MSF (read about their pioneering work on Ebola) and Partners in Health (read their call to action), we still have not acknowledged this crisis, and fixing it will require more than stopping this outbreak.
Messages to the Public
No doubt there is donor fatigue from fighting AIDS, terrorism, climate change,and so many other life-threatening challenges. But right now we are under-reacting, at least in terms of funding and possibly with messaging. CNN reported:
Four major U.S. aid organizations surveyed by CNNMoney have received a combined total of $19.5 million so far. Much of that came from nonprofit foundations, not individual donors. Last month, the United Nations said it would need nearly $1 billion to fight the virus.
Furthermore, the well-intentioned comments meant to reassure, could ultimately cause the public to lose trust:
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advocated moving patients with Ebola to hospitals that don't yet exist, against the recommendations of MSF. (They recently changed course: see Officials Admit a ‘Defeat’ by Ebola in Sierra Leone.)
- Officials should also admit this is an evolving epidemic and state they are working to get it right, instead of claiming they've got it covered and then appearing ill-prepared. (And let's not blame health care workers like the nurse in Dallas for "not following protocol" until we know how she got infected.)
- The CDC also announced that in a worst-case scenario, cases could reach 1.4 million in four months. If 1.4 million turns out to be too low, they will lose credibility, resulting in more fear, mistrust, and panic.
It's Time to Strengthen Our Health Systems
I'm confident we will get the epidemic under control, but we must strengthen our health systems so that health workers have access to diagnostic tools, medications, and effective safety precautions. Beyond the Ebola outbreak, every community should have access to health education and preventive care and robust plans to manage an epidemic—because all lives matter.
The world can respond and improve health care -- we create miracles.
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