Coronavirus equity concerns, cautious Ebola optimism, and 'serious failures' at Save the Children UK: This week in development

A health worker vaccinates a man who has been in contact with an Ebola-affected person in Beni, Congo. Photo by: World Bank / Vincent Tremeau / CC BY-NC-ND

The new coronavirus sparks equity concerns, Ebola enters an observation phase, and Save the Children UK confronts “serious failures” in its response to harassment allegations. This week in development:

The COVID-19 virus has now appeared in more than 70 countries, with 93,090 confirmed cases and 3,198 deaths so far. Researchers are pushing to develop a vaccine quickly, and the World Health Organization has recognized 27 candidates, among which Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine is seen as a front-runner. Developing a vaccine will only be one piece of the challenge, however, as global health experts consider what will be required to provide rapid and equitable access — particularly to low-income countries — if an effective drug is found. “If the COVID-19 outbreak gets worse and endures with serious morbidity and mortality until an effective and safe vaccine is developed, we could well have an access crisis because high-income countries would be under enormous political pressure to use vaccine made [in] their territories for their own populations,” said David Fidler, adjunct senior fellow for cybersecurity and global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. The outbreak continues to disrupt a global development industry that has grown accustomed to large, international conferences and gatherings. This week, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced they would shift April’s Spring Meetings, which had been expected to draw more than 10,000 people to Washington, to a “virtual format.” The World Bank’s staff association called for canceling the meetings permanently, given the significant cost and environmental footprint associated with producing them.

The last Ebola patient in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was discharged from a treatment center in the northeastern town of Beni this week. With no new cases reported during the last two weeks, the response effort will now enter an observation phase for the first time since the outbreak began in August 2018. If a 42-day surveillance period turns up no new cases of the virus, the outbreak will officially be deemed over. Health workers in the area tweeted celebratory messages, while pledging to remain in response mode. “We have cautious optimism, but not naive optimism,” said Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye, Congo’s incident manager at WHO. The surveillance period includes community-based efforts to identify illness and report it to responders, as well as epidemiologist visits to health centers to examine patients and records for possible signs of Ebola. Due to instability in the region, responders have had to adapt their surveillance methods, including by asking people suspected of being infected to visit safe areas where they can be assessed. Health officials have expressed concern about the amount of funding available to see the response effort through to the end. The current strategic response plan calls for an estimated $83 million from January to June, but WHO said it still needs $40 million. Salam Gueye said he worried that growing concerns about COVID-19 might divert resources away from the remaining Ebola response needs.

Save the Children UK “mismanaged” allegations of sexual misconduct and “let down” complainants and the public, according to a report published Thursday by the Charity Commission. The U.K.’s charity regulator began its inquiry in 2018 after whistleblowers highlighted a series of sexual harassment allegations against two senior staff members. The commission found “serious weaknesses in the charity’s workplace culture, and serious failures in the way the charity dealt with complaints about behaviour at its head office.” Save the Children UK accepted the findings and issued an apology, while Alexia Pepper de Caires, a former employee and one of the whistleblowers, told Devex she felt “huge relief” and “validation.” The inquiry examined the charity’s response to allegations of sexual harassment against senior staff made in 2012 and 2015. It concluded that the organization did not consistently follow its own misconduct processes and that it provided information that was “not wholly accurate,” leading to a “corrosive impact” on the charity’s internal culture. “We continue to be clear that organisations, like Save the Children, have a clear duty of care to staff and must always protect the people they engage with. This requires strong leadership,” a spokesperson for the U.K. government said in a statement.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.