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Terrible calamities occur all across the world on an annual basis. These calamities can include worldwide epidemics such as the 2009 flu pandemic, the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak, or even the recent Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa. Thousands of people have died as a result of various epidemics around the world. Most of these innocent individuals would not have died if there had been a timely reaction for medical assistance to those affected by the disease, as well as safeguards in place to prevent the epidemic from spreading and harming a large population. Furthermore, natural disasters like 2004 Tsunami Earthquake, earthquakes in Haiti, Pakistan, Nepal or even the recent Harvey Hurricane that affected Texas has led to massive loss of lives. There is a need for quick response to offer medical help to those displaced by such disasters. They could be prone to diseases or even could be starving and need food. In many of these disasters, the International community, for instance, the United States and other major stakeholders failed to offer quick help and left for the country affected which in many cases lacked the required capacity to attend to the catastrophe on its own. Many nurses and other health professionals could have offered help at such times of need but there is no mechanism to allow them temporary volunteer time and service to prevent further loss of lives during such times.

Keywords: Ebola, Haiti Earthquake, Health professionals


The 2014 Ebola Epidemic

An outbreak of Ebola was officially confirmed in Guinea, a nation in West Africa during the month of March 2014. The viral disease subsequently spread to the neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia claiming lives. (Venkat, et al., 2015).Unlike the previous outbreak, the 2014 Ebola epidemic was by far larger and had affected more than one country. Ebola is spread when there is body contact with the fluids of another individual. (Yohannes & Lionel, 2016).

Local response

The 2014 Ebola epidemic uncovered how dysfunctional was the public health sector in most of the African countries. For instance, in Liberia, a country where the epidemic mostly affected, only a mere 45 doctors attended to a population of about 4.5 million people. (Yohannes & Lionel, 2016). There was a quarantining of people living in Ebola stricken areas as a measure to prevent the spread of the disease. However, this did not prove to be effective as a university student was found to have slipped to Senegal. This was due to the nature of African borders which are porous in nature. (Yohannes & Lionel, 2016)

In the early weeks of the epidemic, the local communities were reluctant to refrain from the practices they held so dear like greeting one another by shaking hands, kissing ones’ cheek and hugging. These practices facilitated the spread of the disease since there was body contact in all these instances. However, with time due to fear after witnessing how the disease was firsthand, people accepted to refrain from body contact.


The public health situation was further complicated as people who were ill as a result of other deadly diseases like Malaria did not seek medical care due to the fear that they would be infected with deadly Ebola in hospitals. The public health doctors could not attend to patients suffering from other ailments as they had made the epidemic a priority. The local health sector had been stretched beyond its ability.

International response

Despite the Ebola disease being confirmed on the March of 2014, Reuters report that the World Health Organization (WHO) - a United Nations (UN) agency, declared Ebola was an international public health emergency on August 8, 2014. (Yohannes & Lionel, 2016)This shows reluctance by the international community as it took a whole five months of a body tasked with the global health situation to take the epidemic seriously.

WHO had initially participated peripherally by supporting regional organizations e.g. the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) whose response was very slow and inadequate. The WHO was also restricted by bureaucracy, interests of donors, budget cuts, and politics of various agencies in the organization

Barriers to healthcare services for the people impacted by epidemic

The huge costs required to contain made major stakeholders reluctant to help. The WHO reported that an estimated $600 million was required to contain the epidemic.


Many air travel agencies suspended flights to the affected West African states. This made it difficult to transport volunteering nurses and other health professionals to help in dealing with the epidemic.

The porous African borders facilitated the spread of the disease to neighboring countries as people could not be contained in one area.

There was an attack on an Ebola quarantine center in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. The protesters were protesting that Ebola patients were brought from other places of the capital. This complicated matters. (Yohannes & Lionel, 2016)

As the weeks passed by, the Ebola virus appeared in different strains making it difficult to diagnose.Signs and symptoms of Ebola are also similar to those of other diseases (Anja Wolz, 2014)

Most patients went to hospitals when it was already too late. This was due to the fact that most people hide even though they might be sick, fearing being diagnosed with the stigmatized disease.

The remote villages had no health facilities making Médecins sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctors Without Borders face a limit in case management as the number of infected persons was overwhelming.

Role of International health organizations in providing health care services related to the event


The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/ Doctors Without Borders played a major role during the Ebola outbreak before the world health community offered to help.

The MSF helped in Case of managements i.e. diagnosis of new infections, therapy support, hydrating of patients, maintaining oxygen level, blood pressure status, providing food of high quality and treating any complications that may arise with antibiotics (Anja Wolz, 2014). However, MSF was stretched beyond its ability because it is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) and a non-profit making organization

The Haiti Earthquake

A disastrous earthquake hit Haiti on January 12 of 2010. 223,000 people died and another 300,000 were left injured. About 2 million people or more were displaced from their residences. (Haver, 2011)

Local response

Local residents responded by pulling their affected neighbors out of fallen buildings, clearing bodies of the debris and started rebuilding their affected lives.

International response

The catastrophe received extensive coverage by the international media. This led to visits to the country by a number of celebrities and other very important persons. Organizations from Europe, the Carribean, South America and North America joined hands to mount a huge humanitarian


support. Haitians living abroad sent contributed millions. About $3 billion was donated (Haver, 2011).

Barriers to healthcare services for the people impacted by the Haiti earthquake

Despite the Haiti earthquake receiving huge humanitarian support, a year later over 800,000 persons were still sleeping in tents or were out there in the darkness every night, a cholera outbreak occurred and also there was a rising political environment. Questions are still raised what went wrong and what could have been done right. (Haver, 2011)

There was inadequate communication with the affected populations making it hard for the affected to receive medical help.

Multiple agencies that offered to help complicated matters leading to wastage of resources as a result of duplication of resources set aside to a certain sector in the process abandoning another sector.

Role of International health organizations

A number of global health organizations offered help including WHO and even health professionals in charity organizations’ like The Red Cross, World Vision offered medical services. However, the cholera outbreak that occurred after has continued to raise questions about what could have been done. (Haver, 2011)

There is a need for legislation to allow a health professional to work outside one's area of license during times of emergency.



The West Africa Ebola epidemic spread faster than anticipated and claimed lots of lives. This could have been prevented had there been adequate nurses and other health professionals to help those affected and control spread of the disease. Despite the huge humanitarian support the Haiti earthquake received, thousands were still homeless a year later and suffering from Cholera outbreak that became a threat to thousands. Lives could have been saved had there been adequate measures to assist in the time of post-epidemic era. There is a need for an intensive campaign to set up an organizational process to allow health care professionals to volunteer time and services in times of global disaster. There is also a need for an efficient mechanism to facilitate efficient transport of health care professionals to places where the disasters have occurred.



Anja Wolz, R. (2014). Face to Face with Ebola — An Emergency Care Center in Sierra Leone. The NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL of MEDICINE, 1081-1083.

Haver, K. (2011). Haiti Earthquake Response: Mapping and analysis of gaps and duplications in evaluations. Humanitarian Outcomes, 1-25.

Venkat, A., Asher, S. L., Wolf, L., Geiderman, J. M., Marco, C. A., McGreevy, J., . . . John E. Jesus, N. P. (2015). Ethical Issues in the Response to Ebola Virus Disease in United States Emergency Departments: A Position Paper of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Emergency Nurses Association, and the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, 605-615.

Yohannes, W., & Lionel, D. G. (2016). Ebola Epidemic. ASPJ AFRICA & FRANCOPHONE, 54-72.

May 17, 2023

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