Business joins the fight against Ebola

Johannesburg 24 November 2014: Business has a fundamental role to play in the fight against Ebola. This was the sentiment put forward by Dr Anuschka Coovadia, Head of Healthcare at KPMG in South Africa. Coovadia was speaking at a dialogue titled “Business response to the Ebola outbreak” hosted by KPMG in conjunction with the Mail and Guardian Africa, the Graça Machel Trust, AGH Capital and the Southern Africa Trust.

“Business is able to build trust, reduce risk and increase investment,” said Coovadia. “We are able to drive awareness, raise funding, work in communities using our own internal capacity and infrastructure to assist with training and research.”

Keynote speaker at the event, Graça Machel, said that the haemorrhagic disease which has claimed nearly 5500 lives in West Africa has exposed the worst of the weaknesses in institutions on the African continent. Machel criticised African governments for their slow response to the epidemic.

“We don’t seem to have learnt lessons from the HIV pandemic,” she said. “We had hundreds of thousands of Africans dying of AIDS before we took the relevant measures to understand that HIV / AIDS can be prevented and those affected can live a long and productive life. It took us a long time to learn that families would be affected. Now with the Ebola outbreak, it is as if those lessons did not register.”

Machel acknowledged that the African Union (AU) had taken a leadership role in bringing business and governments together at a recent meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss Africa’s response to the outbreak. She congratulated African entrepreneurs who had heeded the call to contribute to the fight against Ebola saying that, to date, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote has contributed about US$800 000 and South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe has pledged US$1 million. She lauded the ‘Unite Against Ebola’ fund which had raised US$45 million, with additional commitments made by other global companies but lamented that this intervention had come far too late for the victims of the disease.

“It took us a lot of time to wake up and say that these deaths are unacceptable,” she said.

However, Machel is adamant that although it poses a significant challenge, Ebola, like HIV, can be conquered. She believes that Africa has the ability to contain the virus, and cited Uganda as a country that has successfully supressed the virus when it was first detected in that country in 2011. She admonished African states for looking to Western governments for assistance instead of seeking help from fellow Africans, stating that this was an opportunity for Africans to begin to recognise and value the knowledge and expertise that is available on the continent.

David Okwara

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