The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018
32 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL U.S. Ambassador to Ghana (and Senior FSO) Gene Cretz and others on our country team at the embassy gathered to plan for a potential outbreak. We knew it was highly likely that Ebola could not be stopped at the border. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluid from an infected person, and the illness raged only a few hundred miles to our west. Yet we believed it incumbent on us to do our utmost to help the government of Ghana contain and defeat Ebola’s spread should it get past the doorstep. This conviction reflected both humanitarian and political considerations. The human suffering was horrible to see, but we also knew the disease had the potential to destabilize this key politically and economically progressive democratic coun- try located in a region not known for either. The task was even more urgent because Ghana, unlike the other three most seri- ously affected countries, hosts more than one million visitors a year, many of whom fly back and forth from the United States. The Ghanaian Government’s Initiatives As the disease spread in surround- ing countries, the government of Ghana tracked down and checked those citizens who were exposed to the Liberian-American in the Accra Airport’s transit lounge. Government officials set up rudimentary screening and temperature testing at airports and official border crossings, and procured 10,000 protective clothing suits for medical personnel to be used if needed. Ghanaian personnel built an Ebola isolation center just outside the capital, and two more around the country were under construction. Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama, who was also the head of the Economic Community of West African States at the time, immediately agreed to the United Nations proposal to set up its regional response logistical base at the airport in Accra. This would allow U.N. experts to quickly service the three most-affected countries without burdening those countries’ absorptive capacities at their time of extremis. A few months earlier, Ghana had, with U.S. and others’ help, developed a “National Preparedness and Response Plan for Prevention and Control of Ebola,” which included establishing a Cabinet-level interministerial coordi- nation committee. Yet the pace of the plan’s implementation was slow. We were concerned that two or three levels down, the government of Ghana did not seem to share our sense of urgency or that of its official donor group (which USAID chaired). The people’s knowledge about Ebola and about the cultural and behavioral changes that would be needed to contain a possible outbreak was still minimal. The press was full of outbreak rumors. It was unclear whether the government’s security agencies would be prepared for possible massive investigations, quar- antining and riot control (already underway in Liberia). There was little confidence that anyone had the authority to direct We wanted to show themwhat Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, had done to keep the disease frombecoming a catastrophe of unthinkable proportions. USAID/GHANA’SSYSTEMSFORHEALTHPROJECT Participants learn to decontaminate medical equipment at Central Regional Training in Cape Coast, Ghana.