Amid the devastating effects of West Africa’s Ebola outbreak to human lives, communities, institutions, systems and the economy, there are lessons to be learned for the region to be better prepared to handle future outbreaks.
Granted, the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria was caught early before it spiralled out of control, unlike in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but Nigeria was also able to successfully contain the disease. The country would have not been able to respond so swiftly if it had not had a history of responding to public health emergencies, such as recurrent cholera and Lassa fever outbreaks and lead poisoning, and developed an appropriate response capacity.
Some components of the Ebola response in Nigeria were adapted from the country’s polio eradication efforts, as well as infrastructure and capacity built in response to an Avian Flu outbreak in 2006. Until recently, polio had debilitated thousands of Nigerian children annually. In 2015, Nigeria marked the one-year anniversary of Wild Polio Virus interruption, and had before been declared Ebola-free.
So we ask: How did a previously weak system suddenly gain the momentum to operate efficiently and yield favorable outcomes? Are there lessons we can learn related to the effectiveness of future disease surveillance and emergency response efforts? In both instances [Ebola and polio], we found an alignment of several factors – what we call the seven “P’s:”
Politics of Purpose – Political leaders in Nigeria made eradication of both polio and Ebola national priorities. This established a clarity of purpose and focus. It enabled cooperation across political and technical cadres, federal and state institutions, and across public and private sectors. While technical managers had a mandate to roll out the response, there was still consistent accountability to political leaders (via national task forces, and even the President). We all had a stake in it.
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