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We need more direct involvement, less bureaucracy in the fight against the disease

This government health warning can be seen at the entrance of U of O walk-in clinic on 100 Marie Curie. Photo: Rémi Yuan.

It’s been just more than a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) first published reports about the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Although the threat of a worldwide pandemic has largely tapered off, feelings of fear and anxiety still linger in the back of people’s minds, especially since the outbreak has resulted in more than 25,000 confirmed cases and around 10,000 deaths world-wide.

While Canada did play a big role in helping to stop the spread of this disease, it must be said that many things should have been done differently.

For example, throughout the crisis Canada donated a large number of supplies for use in quarantine zones and to help prevent the contamination of healthcare workers. In total, more than $110 million was donated both in terms of equipment and medical aid. This is certainly a generous amount of financial and logistical aid, but what Canada neglected to donate was front line staffers, or “boots on the ground.”

As a well-developed country, Canada is awash with world-renowned doctors and experts in fields like microbiology and virology. Their expertise could have been used on the ground in a much larger capacity, especially compared to the small handful of experts that were sent over during the last year.

More direct Canadian involvement during the Ebola crisis also could have helped relieve the burden that was placed on frontline healthcare workers. According to the WHO, this was one of their biggest concerns during the worst days of the outbreak, since medical staffers were required to work through the crisis despite being frequently understaffed.

While an influx of equipment and medical supplies can be very useful, it still falls short if there is a lack of trained people who know how to use these items.

Going back to the good for a second, one of Canada’s largest contributions to the fight against Ebola was the experimental vaccine VSV-EBOV. It was a breakthrough in the search for a treatment against highly infectious pathogens, and it showcased Canada’s scientific ingenuity on the world stage.

Unfortunately, all of these advancements were complicated by poor government bureaucracy that resulted in the delayed delivery and testing of the vaccine.

Early on in the development process, the government sold the intellectual property of the vaccine to a small American company that had neither the resources nor the ability to test and manufacture it on a sufficient scale. A large legal battle over who owned what ensued, which cost large amounts of money and wasted even more precious time that could have been used to help treat people.

In the future, a more streamlined approach to handling government-funded investments would result in the right aid being distributed at the right time, and prevent the loss of valuable time that could be used to help save lives.

While it could be said that Canada displayed many sound policies throughout the worst days of the Ebola crisis, our government still showcased plenty of weaknesses.

Moving forward, a faster and more involved commitment to helping resolve epidemics could reduce the spread of disease and fear that’s often associated with such an international health crisis.