The number of cases is still rising. There is still a shortage of beds, medical personnel, and we are not getting the lab testing done fast enough. There are still major challenges. However, the level of organization, the weight of it, the resources that have been put behind it, has now significantly changed. I found people here much more optimistic than they were a few weeks back, but as I said the cases with the disease are still rising and the dangers are still very clear.
One of the lessons out of this for the international community is that once you got a crisis like this you have got to act really really fast. Now, in the three countries – and I will be going to all three countries because I have got teams in all three countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. In Sierra Leone, the British are on the front line, the Americans in Liberia and the French in Guinea – all the countries are doing an enormous amount, but the fact is a crisis in which the whole of the international community has got to get mobilized very quickly. There are countries coming in, Cuba is here, China is here, there are countries doing important work, but this probably should have been done some months back.
The UK is making a big commitment. They have the medical specialists here. I saw the armed forces at work today, and the people from the Department of International Development. They are top quality people and are doing a great job. All the time you are making a calculation between the pace at which you can get everything in place to beat the disease and the pace of the disease itself.
Since being PM, I’ve had a team here in Sierra Leone helping the government, they have been here for 6 to 7 years now. We have a good relationship going back over a long period of time. The tragic thing for the country is that before this Ebola crisis, it was making a lot of progress on the economy. And you can really see the difference in Sierra Leone today from a few years ago. They are going to lose some time because they will have to pick their economy back up and make sure the country goes on a forward path again.
More people will die, but it can be beaten. This is not a disease which we don’t know how to beat. It is literally a matter of mobilizing the logistics, the resource, the organization to defeat it. To give you an example, half of the transmissions here of the disease happen through burials, because people are most contagious after they have died. The tradition and ritual here is that people wash the body and embrace the body – that’s how the disease gets spread. So, what has to happen is that you have to say to people they can’t do that and put a burial system in place where the body is swiftly disposed of. These are difficult to do, but it is not difficult to work out what you need to do.
If we keep on this, and don’t get complacent, we will be beat it. It should be beaten. It is tragic that it has taken so many thousands of lives so far.
The original interview appeared here.
The work described here was carried out by the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, it is now being continued by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.