If there are any positive side-effects from the Ebola outbreak that has already cost more than 2,300 lives in West Africa, it may be to highlight the short-sightedness of funding cuts to international health agencies. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the United Nations' World Health Organisation, says the ability of the agency to respond to health emergencies has been badly undermined. After its total budget was cut by US$500 million to $4 billion, the WHO reduced allocations for responding to health crises by over 50% to about $115 mn. a year.
The WHO reckons it will cost at least $600 mn. to deal with the Ebola outbreak, although the financial losses caused by the disease may run into several billion dollars. But the race to raise emergency funds is proving a great distraction from galvanising action for a regional plan to stop the outbreak.
This comes as United States officials have assessed the Ebola outbreak to be out of control in Liberia and Sierra Leone and estimate that as many as 20,000 could die before its spread is stopped. Concerned by the withdrawal of several voluntary agencies from the Ebola-hit countries, the US is sending in new teams of specialists from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. But Washington has its own economic hurdles, and President Barack Obama has had to urge Congress to fast-track an appropriation of $58 mn. to speed up production of Zmapp, a drug that could help people infected with Ebola.