German ministers visit West Africa with ‘lessons from Ebola’

The German government is hoping a special aid programme will help prop up healthcare systems in West African regions most hard-hit by Ebola. [DG ECHO/Flickr]

Gerd Müller and Hermann Gröhe travelled to Ghana and Liberia on Tuesday (7 April) to strengthen the healthcare system in Africa. But industry officials were not in their delegation. EURACTIV Germany reports.

More than 10,000 have perished in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, with devastating effects on regional healthcare infrastructures and economies.

In response, German Health Minister Gröhe and Development Minister Müller embarked on a 4-day visit to the region, along with representatives from various NGOs.

“We will support healthcare systems and better crisis reaction in Africa, with a special aid programme, in the amount of €200 million,” Müller told Bild.

To date, Germany has contributed €195 million to fighting Ebola in Africa. “Even if the world’s focus shifts away from West Africa, we must not leave the region on its own,” Müller said.

The Federal Republic also plans to assemble a force, unilaterally if need be, including doctors, technicians and specialists, the Development Minister announced.

“We will set up a core team of white helmets at the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) that can be deployed anywhere in the world within three to five days,” he pledged. The GIZ is a federal enterprise that supports the German government in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is not yet been overcome, Gröhe told Bild. German aid is still needed, he said.

Gröhe warned against the growing risk of a worldwide outbreak of such diseases, as travelling becomes more popular.

“The poorest countries need basic medical care that functions well. But they also need things like health authorities to identify and contain infections more rapidly. In serious cases, international aid workers should be made available quicker. These are the lessons of the Ebola crisis,” he pointed out.

Their first destination is the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Ghana, which was spared in the Ebola epidemic, serves as a logistics base for aid work in the countries most severely affected: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Economically, the Ebola crisis has set these three countries back five to ten years.

“The Ebola outbreak in the countries most severely affected, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, has shown that the health systems are too weak to adequately react to this disease and simultaneously maintain daily health care,” said Bernd Pastors from the aid organisation action medeor e.V. , who is among those accompanying the ministers on their trip to West Africa.

“We must ensure that healthcare units are assembled and health personnel are trained. To do this, investments in healthcare must see a long-term increase,” Pastors emphasised.

The German-African Business Association welcomed the German ministers’ joint visit. But the group criticised the fact that no representatives from companies in the German healthcare sector were included in the delegation.

“Right now, there is an especially high demand for healthcare products from Germany in Liberia,” explained Stefan Liebing, chairman of the German-African Association, which represents 50 companies from the health industry who are active in Africa.

The fact that Müller and Gröhe did not take a representative from Germany’s healthcare industry is a wasted opportunity, he criticised. “More than anything, the healthcare industry serves as an example of the positive effects created by stronger links between development policy measures and the strengths of the German economy,” Liebing argued.

Germany’s internationally-oriented companies cover all parts of the sector, he said, ranging from new hospital construction, facilities and operations through consulting services as well as production of pharmaceutical and diagnostic products to insurance plans.

“These services are urgently needed in countries affected by Ebola,” Liebing said, “but also in other African countries.”

More than €1 billion was pledged by member states and the European Commission to fight the Ebola crisis. The European Council has appointed Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides as the EU Ebola Coordinator.

Mobile laboratories, humanitarian experts, and specialists in dangerous infectious diseases have been deployed to the region.

The €280 million call for proposals, launched by the Commission and the European pharmaceutical industry, is under the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).

€140 million will come from Horizon 2020, the EU's framework programme for research and innovation, and €140 million from the pharmaceutical companies which are members of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

The research will involve large-scale clinical trials of new vaccines in the Ebola-affected countries, as well as the development of fast diagnostic tests and new approaches to manufacture and distribute vaccines.

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