Where you fit in the 'race against time'

    David Nabarro, the U.N. special envoy for Ebola, suggests ways the global development community can assist efforts to contain the epidemic in West Africa. Photo by: Mark Garten / United Nations

    Even with a global agenda chock full of pressing concerns, it’s telling that Ebola was among the most urgently discussed issues at the 69th United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York in September.

    At a special session on Ebola during CGI, high-level officials from the world body responsible for coordinating the global effort provided a lay of the land, while NGO executives, philanthropists and representatives from the private sector eagerly shared where their efforts were variously proceeding and stuck.

    Tony Banbury, the former special representative and head of the U.N. mission for Ebola emergency response, joined the session late, having just returned from a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Both men, he said, focused their remarks on Ebola and both stressed urgency.

    So where does the Devex community of aid workers and organizations fit in? I spoke with David Nabarro, Ban’s special envoy on Ebola and the man leading the global effort on the ground, to get a clear answer.

    Nabarro, a British doctor who previously served as the U.N.’s point man on the bird flu crisis, told us that aid workers ready to travel to West Africa are desperately needed. As for their profiles, ideally there should be a mix of skills and backgrounds, but professionals with experience in health care delivery for infectious diseases are particularly crucial, as are those who have a practical understanding of infectious disease control.

    But beyond health experts, there are many skill areas in demand: logistics, food assistance, social mobilization — particularly with experience in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — and social safety net expertise. This last area is key, Nabarro explained, because the Ebola crisis is making everyone poorer regardless of whether the disease has directly impacted their family or not.

    General health care workers are of course also needed, although during the CGI session Nabarro indicated that those staff roles will hopefully be taken up by local health professionals, while international specialists are better suited to manage hospitals and clinics.

    Devex members with expertise in the needed areas are encouraged to connect with nongovernmental organizations, particularly through umbrella groups like InterAction in the United States and Concord in Europe, while Nabarro specifically mentioned Save the Children U.K. as one iNGO seeking skilled professionals immediately.

    As of early January 2015, there were 36 positions advertised on the Devex jobs board and more are likely in process. In addition, United Nations Volunteers is working to coordinate current U.N. workers along with some outside experts for redeployment in the region. Here’s a list of international NGOs currently working in the Ebola-affected countries, some of which are in need of skilled professionals and volunteers, that we will continue to update.

    But a word of caution.

    Nabarro emphasized that “this is an environment where good infection control procedures are important.” He wants all aid workers coming to the region to understand that there are risks associated with being on the front lines, and that those coming should have advance training and knowledge so they can protect themselves. This is not the case, he also underlined, for professionals coming to provide support functions such as logistics and communications. The last thing needed in the region, according to the head of the U.N.’s Ebola response team, is aid workers getting infected.

    Nabarro is also particularly eager to engage business in the effort to fight Ebola. He pointed to the U.N. Foundation’s Ebola Response Fund as one vehicle for collecting donations from corporations — individuals can give too — and indicated that Lisa Doughten at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is liaising with corporations that have in-kind products, services and expertise to offer. Larger and more strategic corporate relationships should go directly to Nabarro, who emphasized that his colleague Banbury is “super keen to make the response open-source so that all businesses are welcome” to participate in this global effort.

    With the Devex community, Nabarro wanted to share the message that this is an “enormous crisis, not so much because of what it’s like now but because of what it could turn into if the collective response isn’t mobilized.” Although many aid organizations are swinging into action and “space is filling up quickly in airports,” “the blockages are in the periphery — it’s the last mile that’s the problem.”

    “Last-mile problems are the most difficult, and logistical support for people to get to the affected communities will be particularly useful,” he emphasized. And the “later stage will be different — when the infrastructure is there — but at the moment it’s about the last mile.”

    As is clear to all the organizations and aid workers mobilizing around the world, Nabarro says we’re in a “race-against-time situation.”

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    The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

    About the author

    • Raj Kumar

      Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community. He is the author of the book "The Business of Changing the World," a go-to primer on the ideas, people, and technology disrupting the aid industry.

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