Last Thursday, I attended the Children's Human Rights Seminar discussing emergency medical response in humanitarian crises. The seminar was broadcast as a panel on Ebola, but was much more broadly focused, as two of the panelists had no direct involvement in the outbreak whatsoever.
The Panel was composed of Erica Kochi, Eric Talbert, and Brad Adams, each of which had dealt extensively with children's human rights and humanitarian crisis response in their own regard. Erica Kochi sparked my interest, as she was the co-chief of UNICEF's innovation team. As the lead of innovation at UNICEF, she talked about her focus on development of communication, supply chain management, and education. Although she spoke little about her personal role in the Ebola outbreak, she did mention that UNICEF's innovation tech team has been working on improving mobile networks in Liberia in order to try and disseminate public health information to people in the region.
This immediately made me wonder how many people had access to cell phones in Liberia and West Africa overall. According to a national survey done in Liberia in 2013, mobile phone penetration stands at 42 percent, meaning that 42 percent of the 4.2 million Liberians have access to a phone. I was unable to find more information about UNICEF's involvement in distribution of Ebola outbreak information via SMS, but it seems that this is a viable avenue to educate citizens of Liberia about the disease with a relatively low cost.
Eric Talbert had much more of a direct role in the Ebola outbreak, as his non profit organization Emergency USA had already established one Ebola treatment center and is in the process of creating another. Professor Siegel quickly questioned Eric if these treatment centers would be utilized in the future, bringing up the issue of sustainability of foreign aid in the region. Eric's response was a little dismissive, however Bob's question is a very valid one. Ebola is not the only disease that Western African nations are battling against. As a company providing new Ebola treatment centers in West Africa, Emergency USA should seize the opportunity to create long lasting clinical facilities that will aid the population indefinitely. The failed health systems of many of these countries continue to propagate the growing number of deaths and incident cases in these countries. Therefore, Emergency USA has the ability to attack the root of the problem not only in the next few months, but for many years to come.
Although we did not talk much about the children affected by the Ebola outbreak, overall,the panel spurred an interesting discussion about disease control and international aid. Hopefully UNICEF and Emergency USA will provide the region with meaningful infrastructural developments that will curb the epidemic and be of use to Western African nations in the future.
- Marcus Munoz