Mother, May I…?

Ebola is something that one can no longer ignore.

From USAID's blog page on Ebola

From USAID’s blog page on Ebola

USAID notes: Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history and President Obama has declared it a top national security priority.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do. That’s what we’re doing as we speak.” – President Obama.

I work in public health. I have always known that I would work in the continent. I have also always known that I wanted to work on disaster and emergency response plus management. But I sit on the sidelines and I watch this disease ravage part of the continent. I have tried to find positions that I can volunteer for but it seems like the consensus is that ‘only America’ can save the world from this virus.

I really want to help. I can do public health logistics, supply management, program implementation and response management, or whatever duties the teams on the ground may need a public health’er to do. I have looked at all these big-time response organizations, most of them based in the U.S. I am not American. I am African and my only desire is to help. It is a bit discouraging to scour websites of all the different organizations that are working on the matter, only to see a note: We are only accepting US citizens because of the evacuation guidelines put in place by the U.S. government.

I suppose if I volunteered and I got sick, I would have to call Uhuru to come and pick me up. Because, God forbid, I put a drain on the health system of the country in which I have been living and paying taxes for most of my adult life.

It feels like I have to ‘Mother, May I?’ it but I know the answer will be no. I wonder how many others, especially Public Health folks, feel hand-tied in the same way? I am not suggesting that every PH’er be allowed to sweep into West Africa on a public health horse, with an SPSS-analysis program in one hand and M&E spreadsheets on the other, but perhaps the organizations could be flexible with their HR needs and guidelines.

Public health is an important part of any response and to better prepare the world and these countries for future epidemics of any kind, PH’ers from all walks of life who can provide valuable services ought to be considered for service. What it looks like now is that all organizations are rushing to recruit only medical personnel. However, what are we doing in terms of supply chain management, BCC campaigns, preventive measures and education? But you can only apply to work with these international organizations if you fit certain criteria.


USAID says, ‘At the heart of the Ebola epidemic sweeping across Africa, is a matter of health systems’. Would you not consider now the perfect time to strengthen those systems? Or are we waiting till Ebola is done and then we can focus on that? Can we not build up a parallel approach where providers work with saving patient lives and public health specialists can come in and work on shoring up the health system as the response expands? And these PH specialists should be able to come from all over and not just be citizens of the U.S. Many residents in the U.S. can provide great expertise, I am sure.

I want to help. I am sure there are many other public health’ers who would love to help but their hands are tied. Unless you are a doctor, U.S. military personnel or an American citizen, you cannot do anything but donate money to response organizations.

But damn it, I did not go to school and get a public health degree to sit on my butt and do nothing. Where are all the news reports about the public health aspect and what PH’ers can do to help? I read an article about the community education group that was killed in Guinea because there was a fear that they would spread the illness. But, we all know, public health is not only community education and behavior change communication. There are so many things that PH’ers could do to assist the efforts of those working on the front lines. We may not don the HazMat style suits, or treat patients directly but I am sure we can contribute to the efforts.

Despite us not being American citizens.
Despite us not being doctors.

We would like to help. Please tell us how.

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