A woman should be appointed as EU Ebola envoy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun July 20, 2014 [Photo: Reuters]

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun. [Reuters]

EU leaders are expected to appoint a coordinator on Ebola during the Council summit on 23-24 October, and this special envoy should be a woman, writes Mirjam van Reisen.

Mirjam van Reisen is a professor of International Social Responsibility at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Ebola hits women: 75% of the victims of the Ebola virus are female. They look after sick children, husbands, and members of the family. Minister of Development of Liberia, Julia Duncan-Cassell, requested last week that more international women are appointed to give leadership to the fight against Ebola.

She is right. The international community has not appointed any women as Envoy on Ebola, with the exception of Finland and Belgium. It is expected that the EU will appoint an Ebola Envoy this week. It is important that this appointment will not be used for political purposes, but that a person will be appointed who is competent, practical and energetic and who has experience in the fight against epidemics in Africa.

There is an urgent need that the many promises to contribute to the fight against Ebola are transformed into real action on the ground and that the affected countries are in real terms assisted in the fight against the virus. The fight against Ebola is a complex issue. While immediate humanitarian measures are needed, attention must be given to keep the economies running, support must be provided to the companies that are crucial at this juncture and transport cargo and people to the affected countries (for instance the airlines Brussels Air and Maroc Air who provide the bridge to the region).

It is crucial that there is sufficient food, medicine and clean drinking water. Close collaboration with the governments in West Africa needs to be established, in order to rebuild the communities hit by Ebola, so that they can take responsibility for their own future.

The fight against Ebola is a common interest. The virus does not know borders, nor race, nor continent. It is crucial to involve local communities, so as to ensure that the Ebola crisis does not lead to unrest and to prevent regional conflicts. It is in Europe’s own interest to stop the virus from spreading as soon as possible.

An understanding of health systems in Africa is of great importance to provide leadership in the fight against Ebola. The Ebola crisis may have come as a surprise, but experts on fragile states recognised early on the danger of weak health structures in these countries. The fight against Ebola provides a second chance to ensure that permanent capacity is built in the affected countries to adequately respond to such crises in the future. The crisis should be used to structurally, and in the long term, increase the capacity for medical care.

This is also in Europe’s own interest, to keep its own health systems cost-effective for its citizens. If in the fight against Ebola, insufficient attention is given to the establishment of long-term health systems, than the affected countries will continue to go from crisis to crisis. This would be an inefficient use of development resources and money, and hence be very expensive. Ebola provides a lesson that more permanent health capacity must be built in fragile developing countries, and that women, who look after the sick, must be supported to fulfill this task.

It would be good if Europe could make this point very clearly and appoint a woman as its Special Ebola Representative.

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