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Up for Debate: A Special Series for Opportunity Collaboration 2014

Opportunity Collaboration is a four-day problem-solving, strategic retreat for nonprofit leaders, for-profit social entrepreneurs, grant-makers and impact investors engaged in economic justice enterprises. Here Skoll World Forum features contributions from participants in this year's event. Opportunity Collaboration took place in Ixtapa, Mexico from October 12-17, 2014.


Responding to Ebola Crisis out of Enlightened Self-Interest

Responding to Ebola Crisis out of Enlightened Self-Interest

October 26, 2014 | 2392 views

The event was Opportunity Collaboration – the 2014 edition happening in Ixtapa, Mexico. The session was an impromptu one – not even imagined weeks prior to the event. The subject was Ebola in its latest manifestation in three African countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Ebola has no known cure. Needless to say, the scramble is on to find one.

Ebola’s latest emergence, on a continent ill-prepared for a crisis of this scale and severity, has caused panic like nothing else in recent times. Aid agencies estimate that it will take at least six months to get the disease under control – if not, there could be over a million infections by January 2015.

The three epicenters – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – are countries that have emerged relatively recently from long, drawn-out civil conflicts and are among the world’s poorest. All have extremely weak health systems.

Yet there have been successes in the region – Nigeria and Senegal have been declared Ebola-free. According to the World Health Organization, health officials in Nigeria were able to reach 100 percent of known contacts in Lagos and 99.8 percent at the second outbreak site in Port Harcourt. This aggressive government response has been effective in identifying and isolating reported cases despite the country’s relatively poor health system.

In Mexico, the session on Ebola provided information on who was working on the response, what they were doing, ongoing co-ordination efforts and outstanding needs. Specialized and general medical support, civilian and military expert logistics capacity and money have helped a great deal. However the greatest impact has been because of localized interventions like door-to-door community health education campaigns in rural villages and active surveillance of contacts identified by infected individuals.

As I listened to the urgency of the discussion I thought about how crises like this force changes in habits and attitudes in a relatively short time. Among lessons that were now being taught aggressively was that of avoiding physical contact generally, but more critically with those that may be infected. There are emerging protocols on how to handle the disposal of dead bodies – and it is clear that health personnel are on the front line of this desperate battle for survival. If anything has threatened life on a scale that was previously unimaginable, this is it.

African delegates attending Opportunity Collaboration spoke of the emerging African response. In a panic some countries started by attempting to seal their borders to anyone coming from affected countries. Then as common sense prevailed, they relaxed this stance and instead sent financial support, while others have dispatched their health personnel to address existing challenges.

This one time it is clear that no one is acting on the basis of sympathy or pity for those affected – even though this clearly exists in large measure. Our actions are clearly a manifestation of enlightened self-interest. In this situation, self-interest takes into account our fears and urges us to exercise restraint and not let this ever-present fear drive our actions. Rather, enlightened self-interest suggests that we should temper our tendency to panic and act with a focus on the medium and long-term health and security needs of those affected – and the rest of humanity – in mind.

  • Kanyiha Mbogori

    I completely agree. Unfortunately, it is human nature to panic and run when confronting a dangerous situation like the Ebola epidemic, but as you put it, common sense usually prevails and altruism for mankind allows relief for those in need. Hopefully this will act as the catalyst to finding a cure and ridding the world of this horrific plague. This is a great article, thank you!


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