Saturday, 18 October 2014

Ebola Bribes and Parliamentary Diplomacy

Africa needs all the help it can get on Ebola. But, the continent must discard with practices and tendencies that inhibit efforts to curb the deadly virus. A piece in the October 14th edition of the Wall Street Journal makes this perhaps even more expedient than tonnes of external assistance.
According to the report, some body collectors in Liberia, have resorted to collecting bribes instead of corpses of Ebola victims. Families who lose loved ones to the disease and are supposed to submit the bodies to the authorities for appropriate disposal are said to be clinging to age long beliefs of conducting funeral rites which includes washing and pampering the corpses for a couple of days before interment. And to achieve this, bribes as low as $40 are offered to officials and/or intermediaries in return for death certificates certifying demise by other causes instead of Ebola. Vincent Chounse, a community outreach worker on the outskirts of Monrovia was quoted by the paper thus: “The family says the person is not an Ebola patient and they pull them away from other people. Then they say ‘we can give you a certificate from the Ministry of Health that it wasn’t Ebola. Sometimes it is $40. Sometimes it is $50. Then they offer bags to them and (the family) carry on their own thing.” Such a low indeed in the battle to stamp out a scourge stumped in the West African country where hundreds of lives have been lost to the disease. Andrew Medina-Marino, an epidemiologist was also quoted in the report describing the situation as one in which “low-level corruption has a high-impact.”
But a piece of good news has come from the diplomatic front. And it was spurred by Africa. During the week parliamentarians from some 145 countries gathered in Geneva under the aegis of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) to engage on issues of mutual interest and to promote representative democracy throughout the world. The scourge of the Ebola virus did not escape the attention of the lawmakers as the African Group threw the issue up for discourse as an emergency item.
It was a moment of unanimity for the African countries participating at the conference given the fact that the dreaded disease ravages parts of the continent on a far wider and alarming scale compared to the few isolated cases other parts of the world have recorded. Notably, Guinea which is the epicentre of the current scourge was re-admitted into the 166-member body of global parliaments. However, Liberia and Sierra Leone which have been worse hit by the deadly virus will find the IPU intervention as a needed elixir in the frenetic bid to halt the marauding strides of the epidemic.
At the end of debates, the IPU adopted a resolution which basically signified a desperate call on the world to focus more energies on and invest more resources in the fight against Ebola in countries badly affected by the disease. A statement from the IPU noted that the world had dithered in its response to the catastrophic health challenge and called on countries to redouble their efforts. The resolution tasked parliaments across the world to enact legislations that can lead to improvements in the health systems and emergency response capabilities of their countries while also calling on the global pharmaceutical industry to scale up on research and development.
The IPU statement read in part: “Deploring the loss of life to Ebola and concerned by the high risk of the virus spreading globally, the resolution acknowledged that although many countries had already provided support, the international community had been slow and its response to the epidemic had been insufficient.
“The resolution appealed to States and to those already providing assistance to redouble their efforts to heighten public awareness on the disease and vigorously counter stigmatization. Effective security and health protocols were similarly required to limit the transmission and scope of the Ebola epidemic which, according to the United Nations, could become a humanitarian disaster with immeasurable consequences.
“IPU Members underscored the impact the epidemic was having on food and water supplies and on the economies of affected countries, compromising their political stability. With thousands of people having died in some of the poorest countries in the world, the resolution urged the pharmaceutical industry, research institutions and the private sector to invest in viable treatment options and affordable vaccines against Ebola.
“Longer-term solutions included parliaments enacting legislation to improve health systems and being better prepared to deal with health emergencies and the humanitarian crises which could ensue. The IPU resolution recommended plans be drawn up to help affected countries recover quickly from the negative effects of the Ebola crisis and for the international community to set up a rapid health response to cope with health crises such as this one.”
African representatives, at the IPU have done their beat by drawing further global attention to the Ebola ravages on parts of the continent. But national, municipal and local authorities must step up the game with respect to strict procedures and global best practices in containing this debilitating threat to lives, communities and the political systems some if which like Guinea’s are still fragile.
It is instructive to note that Nigeria’s delegation to the Geneva meetings led by Senate President David Mark and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha made notable inputs in arriving at the resolution. The deputy speaker who spoke to the media on the sidelines of the conference noted that delegates from Africa drew inspiration from Nigeria in pushing for the resolution on Ebola to be adopted. Indeed Nigeria’s success story in curtailing the Ebola outbreak resulting to a near banishment of the virus from the country’s shores continues to resonate globally as a ray of hope in the battle against the epidemic. In making increased and concerted efforts in checking Ebola which has so far spread into the USA, Europe and even Brazil, the world can learn from the experiences of Nigeria, a point emphasized by the country’s delegates at the IPU meeting. “And as restated by the World Health Organization (WHO) which is at the verge of certifying the country free of the virus. But Africa’s most populous nation must not rest on its oars. Danger is not completely averted yet.”


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