Panel of Experts Agree: It’s All About Partnership in the Fight Against Ebola

On the quest to stamp out Ebola and get to zero cases in West Africa, community engagement both here and abroad is the key to keeping the Ebola conversation at the front of everyone’s minds. One of the greatest challenges is that Ebola has lost its media cachet, and while the disease is still looming dangerously over West Africa, the conversation about how to respond to it has slowed.

On Thursday, June 18, Tackle Ebola, with Coca-Cola, UPS, the CDC Foundation and the World Bank hosted a lively DC lunch discussion reflecting on their response to date and looking toward the future. Discussions like these remind the world that we still care about the Ebola outbreak. We still want and need to help.

The event focused on public-private partnerships in the ongoing Ebola response and how to best prepare for future health threats. Washington State Senator Patty Murray sponsored the event, with over 100 people in attendance; a quarter of those from Senate offices. Other attendees included members of NGOs, the private sector and other areas of the US government.

Conversation on Ebola response in Senate Hart building, Washington, DC, June 18, 2015.  Photo:  Jay Mallin

Conversation on Ebola response in Senate Hart building, Washington, DC, June 18, 2015. Photo: Jay Mallin

To kick off the event, the CDC gave a read-out on the current state of the epidemic, which is still spreading in West Africa, with almost 100 new cases in Sierra Leone and Guinea in the last few weeks. This was followed by a panel discussion with the Director of the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program, Gabrielle Fitzgerald, and representatives from the CDC Foundation, Coca-Cola, and UPS; all members of the private and philanthropy sector who responded aggressively and early, ahead of larger, yet slower, investments from governments.

As Michael Gerson from The Washington Post stated, “Ebola was a stress test for global preparedness for containing disease, and the world did not pass.”

Gabrielle relayed how the Foundation was able to spring into action with its Ebola support at the onset of the outbreak and mobilize an immediate public-private partnerships by working with the CDC and CDCF to plan effective responses.

Similarly, the CDCF was able to respond to the Ebola epidemic quickly because of its relationships with trusted partners and donors. Coca-Cola and UPS spoke to the importance of effective supply chains in crisis and global health overall, underscoring the expertise that the private sector can share. This point was echoed in a resulting Reuters article: Ebola showed aid delivery desperately needs an overhaul.

On the heels of her return from a recent trip to West Africa, Gabrielle reported there was still much to accomplish to continue to fight Ebola. The rainy season has begun in West Africa, posing a greater challenge for transportation between potential Ebola victims and health care workers. Additionally, with Ramadan underway with large daily gatherings there is more opportunity for the disease to spread. All the more reason to focus on community engagement in the remaining journey to zero cases of Ebola, as reiterated by DevEx coverage: At Ebola’s last mile, community engagement is key.

Infectious pathogens will not sit quietly and wait for the world prepare before inflicting their damage. These diseases do not just appear, they creep in through the cracks in infrastructure. Cracks that can be shored up by building sturdy relationships now, not scrambling during an outbreak.

The panel resoundingly agreed that strengthening health workforces in developing countries, coordinating logistics effectively and collaborating with nontraditional players in crisis, all play a critical role in effectively addressing global challenges. The takeaways from Ebola can be scaled to many other emergencies around the world.

Ebola is not over, and those who are working in the thick of the outbreak are reminded every single day; it is important that we are all reminded just as often.