How the private sector can pitch in to help combat Ebola

A health worker sanitizes the walkway of a hospital in Pujehun, Sierra Leone, one of the countries hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. The international community turns to private sector for help in containing the outbreak of the disease in West Africa. Photo by:  Medici con l'Africa Cuamm / CC BY-NC-SA

As health workers on the ground continued to struggle to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in September, the United Nations, international nongovernmental organizations and other donors appealed to the private sector for help.

And the need couldn’t have been greater.

“Nothing that has been done to date has put a slight dent in the speed of the [spread of] disease,” Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at relief agency Samaritan’s Purse, said Sept. 26 during a conference call hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center.

He likened the epidemic to a fast-moving freight train.

In this context, the private sector — especially corporations already operating in the most affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — have a crucial role to play, according to Lisa Doughten, chief adviser for resource mobilization and private sector relations at the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

“What companies operating in the region can do … is stay in the region, and state their commitment publicly to stay in the region,” Doughten said, urging firms to provide adequate security for their employees and carry out visible community outreach projects to contribute to “situational awareness.”

The U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, she explained, would be working in the field and thus directly benefit from more informed communities.

Doughten also called on the private sector to contribute to the Ebola trust fund set up by the U.N. Foundation, which provides tax benefits to U.S. and U.K. citizens and corporations.

Joe Ruiz, director of the humanitarian relief program at the UPS Foundation, advised firms interested in helping out in the response to partner with organizations that already have the expertise to identify what the specific needs are. For example, if a company is able to provide protective equipment for aid workers, he noted, they should know exactly what type of protective equipment is needed, and where.

Joe Ruiz, director of the humanitarian relief program at the UPS Foundation

U.S.-based NGO network InterAction, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for International Disaster Information are other useful resources for finding knowledgeable partners and deserving fund recipients, Ruiz said.

Dr. Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighted that the most important task was ramping up isolation and treatment facilities.

“We have a window of opportunity now, but … the pivotal point in terms of what we need to do to turn this around is really a matter of speed and scale, because that window of opportunity is closing and the longer we wait the more dire the situation is going to become.”

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.