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Learning the Lessons of Ebola: Why the Spread of Disease is About More Than Just Health

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By Levi Maxey and Brian Finlay: 

By September 2014, a full nine months after the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, hundreds of thousands of dollars in pledges of assistance sat stranded in warehouses around the globe pending shipment to the region or transfer to the field. As global supply chains shut down for fear of widening the transmission of the virus, the practical challenges of moving the requisite assistance to those most in need grew ominously for providers and patients alike. The involvement of both military and commercial airlift would become essential.

This logistics dilemma—just one of myriad challenges facing the international community as it struggled against the burgeoning Ebola crisis—is indicative of not only the interconnectivity and complexity of the crisis itself, but of the need to think beyond traditional models of crisis response. As the world now moves past the most grueling phase of the Ebola outbreak and reflects upon shortcomings in our global efforts, a few obvious lessons have emerged. These include the necessity for rapid medical responses, the need for preventive investments in health systems, and the benefits of local outreach and engagement. Yet, as the anecdote above indicates, perhaps the most important lesson learned from this particular crisis is the need to think both horizontally across the health-security divide, and ultimately, to better inculcate both public and private actors into complex global health emergencies.

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Photo credit: USAID_IMAGES via flickr

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