5 Things Sierra Leone and Liberia should Be Doing Post Ebola

The Ebola Virus

Ebola virus has caused much damage to societies in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Businesses, economy, education, etc. have suffered. The World Bank and other institutions are still working on a definite number, however it is estimated in October 2014 that the region of West Africa will experience an economic downside of US$25billion. In January 2015, that figure was reduced to a low of US$500million and a high of US$6.2billion. These figures the World Bank claim is for the whole West African region and not just the three affected countries.

According to the WHO, current total Ebola infections stands at 26,628[1], resulting in 11,020 deaths. Figures 1 and 2 show cases/deaths recorded as at May 3 2015 and how they are distributed across the affected countries.

 

Figure 1: Shows Global Infection as at May 3 2015 

Figure 2 below shows that Liberia topped with the highest deaths of 4,716 account for 42.79% of the total deaths with Sierra Leone following second with 3,903 accounting for 35.42% of the total death and Guinea with 21. 65%. Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States together account for 0.14% of the total Ebola deaths recorded.

Figure 2: Shows Global Deaths resulting from Ebola as at May 3 2015

On May 9th 2015 Liberia became the first of the 3 heavily affected countries to be declared “Ebola Free”. The WHO in a statement on its website said: “Forty-two days have passed since the last laboratory-confirmed case was buried on 28 March 2015.”

But the declaration for Liberia does not mean Ebola is over. Ebola can come back to Liberia from across the border with Sierra Leone or Guinea where there was at least 35 new cases in the last few weeks.

I have written about what may have caused the crisis in Sierra Leone to drag. I also discussed the political issues that may have contributed to further worsening the crisis in that country.

As the numbers of infections reduce, the next question development experts have started asking is: “What next?”

Indeed the problem created by the Ebola crisis is bigger than the deaths of 10,000 people. Ebola led to the disruption the vaccination programmes for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Key timelines to vaccinate children were skipped. This has created huge immunity gaps and a large pool of children that would die from future preventable diseases.

Dr. Walter Gwenigale, Liberia’s health minister says: “measles vaccination dropped by 45% in August-December 2014 compared to the same period in 2013[2]. There are similar stories in Sierra Leone and Guinea as well.

Millions of school-going children across the three countries for months have been left idle. There are fears that many of these children may have become sexually active and without access to contraceptives, many fear not only a spike in teenage pregnancy but also HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

I propose 5 – things that should be done to prevent the remission of the virus.

  1. Perform a holistic national needs assessment: So far, there is no comprehensive “needs list” for post Ebola work. Many governments, ministers and international organisations are throwing numbers around without any scientific backing. For instance, what is required for students to catch-up on lost time? How much would it cost?
  2. Fix education: Poor Human Resource capacity as a result of poor education has very much affected how the countries were able to manage the crisis. The crisis itself has severely affected education. It is important to not repeat the post-war mistakes where people were promoted en masse. Bureaucrats must find creative ways of solving the backlog of schoolwork and students in their final years should be expressly supported to write their Junior and Senior High School exams. Hopefully we do not have another “lost generation” if the estimated 300,000 children fail their exams due in April and June.
  3. Transparency in the Constitutional Review Process: Sierra Leone and Liberia were both in the process of reviewing their constitutions, the Ebola crisis allowed everyone to take their eyes of the ball for a while. This has raised pockets of issues in both countries. Indeed Sierra Leone has a case before its supreme court to determine the constitutionality of the removal of its Vice-President. The sanctity of the constitutional review process will add value to the economy that has already lost value due the Ebola crisis. A transparent constitutional review process will bring confidence in the country and thus shore up investment outlook.
  4. Do not borrow more Money: Already the World Bank Group (WBG) has released US$650million to support the three-affected countries. This will only further impoverish the people as these loans and grants come with stingy rules that does not allow the proper organic growth of nations. All of Africa is a testimony of how WBG and IMF policies have failed the region.
  5. Invest in Training, Capacity Building, and Development: The Sierra Leone and Liberia Civil Services are still yet to recover from the war. Governments’ planning and implementation has not factored the role, growth and development of the Civil Service. In Liberia, the government “imported” highly qualified Liberians living outside the country to come back and take leadership roles. These “imports” earn multiple times over what their local counterparts earn. It is rumoured directors and ministers in that group earn between US$15,000-20,000 per month. Local directors and middle level Civil Service staff have a base of US$156[3]. According to the Government of Liberia’s Civil Service Restructure Strategy (CSRS) 2008-2011, “Salaries of civil servants have eroded dramatically since the 1970s. For example, a new college graduate employed in the Civil Service in 1977 earned a net monthly salary of US$416.66 inclusive of transportation and housing allowances and could save part of the salary. Today no civil servant receives a base salary higher than US$156.00 per month, and college graduates entering the Service today earn less than US$75 per month” (CSRS 2008-20011 p24) On January 28 2013, the AllAfrica.com[4] website reported President Johnson-Sirleaf approving a US$25 wage increase across board in annual message to the joint session of House of Representatives and Senate. The story is not different in Sierra Leone where the most qualified and forward thinking Civil Servants have been lost to international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations and the UN systems and agencies. Sierra Leone and Liberia must consciously develop a measureable, effective and efficient system of investing to improve the delivery and quality of its Civil Servants. Importing citizens and paying high wages often to people that have no connection to their government or country will fail as we have seen these people abandoned their offices during the peak of the crisis in Liberia.

While the fight against Ebola is being won, the West African region including the affected countries cannot continue to do things as usual.

Our governments must make conscious effort to fix their borrowing, spending and implementation habits. Sierra Leone and Liberia particularly must give thoughts to the points given above or the next epidemic will be worse.

Note:

S. Eyram Tsike-Sossah holds an Msc Political Science from the University of Amsterdam and an MA in Development Studies from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He is the author of “Youth and Local Governance: Youth Participation in Local Governance: Bringing Youth to Decision Making in Sierra Leone“. Simon works for ACIPP West Africa as its Executive Director and also leads its Consulting work in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
This blog is the private work of Simon Tsike-Sossah and do not represent the views of the organisations he works for.

[1] This number also includes cases in the USA, UK, Spain, Senegal, Nigeria and Mali as of May 3, 2015

[2] See: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ebola-virus-outbreak/liberias-ebola-free-not-out-woods-yet-n357301

[3] See http://www.emansion.gov.lr/doc/Liberia%20CSR%20Strategy%20June%2008.pdf

[4] See: http://allafrica.com/stories/201301291164.html

%d bloggers like this: