In the last few weeks, the latest Ebola crisis has reached a tipping point. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on July 17, and the World Bank has committed an additional $300 million in resources to the frontlines in the fight against the outbreak.
The current epidemic of this deadly virus, which began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) one year ago this week, is the 10th grim outbreak the country has faced in the last four decades. More than 1,600 people have died over the last 12 months.
Five years ago, more than 11,000 people died during another West Africa outbreak. The numbers alone are staggering, with each death representing lives cut short and families mourning loved ones.
In this latest emergency, the World Bank has been working with the government and the people of DRC, international partners, and non-governmental organizations to tackle the problem.
A central challenge is getting financing to the heroic health workers from the DRC, UN, WHO, and other organizations working on the front lines to contain and eradicate the disease.
They are working in fragile and conflict-affected conditions where there is often a distrust of government and a lack of social cohesion and security. Our additional $300 million in aid is financed largely through IDA, our fund for the poorest countries, to help DRC respond to the crisis and return to a more durable development path.
It expands the $80 million already disbursed from IDA’s contingency crisis mechanisms. The funds help support the most immediate requirements: establishing Ebola treatment centers; supporting frontline health workers with hazard pay; setting up handwashing stations to help curtail transmission; and financing mobile laboratories, case-tracking teams to trace the disease, and decontamination teams to ensure that outbreak areas can be made safe again.
But this outbreak risks escalating and remains a dangerous threat to the people of eastern DRC, and beyond.
I see four areas of urgent action that can, if done right, fight this epidemic effectively.
First, we need to direct money and support where it is needed most: to the health workers and frontline responders.
We are working to ensure that World Bank funding quickly makes it to the front lines, and we urge other funders to join us and help close funding gaps.
Second, we must go beyond health. One of the lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak is that fighting a pandemic is not only about building more hospitals or hiring more doctors and nurses.
It is about supporting communities by improving education, fostering behavior change, broadening social services, and creating jobs. A significant portion of the World Bank’s new funding will, therefore, expand access to social services with the goal of creating 50,000 jobs over the next year through cash-for-work programs.
This funding has the triple benefit of bringing critical income to distressed households, improving local infrastructure, and building trust in communities.
Third, resources should get the most value-for-money, including financial accountability. We are supporting the government of the DRC and international partners to ensure that the basic financial systems are in place to assess needs and marshal resources efficiently and effectively.
Lastly, we need to redouble our efforts to address the underlying sources of fragility and poverty.
Disease outbreaks may always occur, but they are exacerbated by conditions such as weak institutions and economies; poverty; lack of resources; or an inadequate response.
We are focused on containing this outbreak and expediting the road to recovery, and we are also working on tackling the enduring development challenges that made parts of the DRC vulnerable to outbreaks in the first place.
The World Bank will continue working with WHO and other organizations to direct resources to the people battling this epidemic and to the communities that need the most support. We remain on the ground in DRC, are committed as a long-term partner, and will keep working in other countries where an Ebola outbreak may strike.
The prospects for so many depend on bringing this latest outbreak to a timely end, and it will take an organized, well-financed, multinational effort to succeed.