The chaotic conference on the Ebola crisis at the European Union’s Palais d’Egmont in Brussels on 3 March reflected the confused, ad hoc response to the emergency from national governments and international organisations. It wasn’t a fund-raising meeting: that is due in May under United Nations auspices. Neither was it a meeting to draft the regional recovery plan that the finance ministers of the three most affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – say is essential. That is to be hammered out at meetings starting next week in Freetown and then at the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April.
The World Health Organisation should have led the response but it has no money. Some 75% of its funds come from voluntary contributions and in its 2014/15 budget the WHO has cut allocations for health crises by over half, to $228 million. This followed a $500 mn. cut to its total budget of $4.5 bn. in 2013/14.
Untangling such crossed wires over money and strategy is harder still after reports of the theft of Ebola funds in Sierra Leone, now under investigation by Parliament in Freetown. The governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone announced their goal to reach ‘zero Ebola’ – no new cases – by April, but much work remains to be done. The clearest message from Brussels came from a non-governmental organisation, Médecins sans frontières: the Ebola outbreak is not under control and the crisis is not yet over.