Ebola: The Fight to Reach Zero and the Road to Recovery

04/10/2015 03:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015

This spring we mark the one year anniversary of the onset of the largest Ebola outbreak in history. The crisis has resulted in over 25,551 cases and over 10,588 deaths. It has highlighted the immediate challenges community members and response workers face operating in fragile healthcare systems and its broader effects on local economies, food security and cultural norms. On one hand, these challenges have been daunting; on the other hand, it has been encouraging to witness local governments, NGOs and international actors collectively create solutions and greatly reduce the number of cases. However, even as rates in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have significantly decreased, we must continue to reach our target of zero cases, prevent future outbreaks and rebuild afflicted communities.

Existing relationships between NGOs and the local communities have allowed organizations to coordinate with local partners and successfully provide immediate medical assistance. Management Sciences for Health and International Medical Corps worked with Liberian Ministries of Health to construct Ebola treatment centers and community care centers in the affected countries. To prevent rapid transmission, Global Communities is successfully conducting safe burials in Liberia through recognizing local traditions and norms. As the number of Ebola cases decline, vigilant contact tracing is paramount to reducing the cases to zero. Mapping efforts by American Red Cross International Services has been vital to identifying existing outbreaks and predicting future outbreaks.

The crisis has resulted in a significant decrease in trade across borders, shrinkage in each country’s workforce and shortage in food. The World Bank estimates that all three affected countries will “lose at least US $1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2016 as a result of the epidemic.” To mitigate the outbreak’s ripple effects, The Solidarity Center is currently providing financial assistance to infected workers and for families of deceased workers. Additionally, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Hunger Program is working with communities to improve food security by maintaining agricultural production.

With the impeding rainy season, it is imperative that partners continue to address Ebola outbreaks in remote areas while constructing strong healthcare systems to prevent future outbreaks. While the priority is getting to zero cases, host national and local governments, NGOs and international institutions should remain well-coordinated and respect, understand and support the existing assets that local communities have to combat disease in varying contexts. Through collaborative, integrated efforts, we can rid the disease while building a road to sustainable recovery.

To learn more about the NGO response and the continued efforts, listen to my segment on Fighting Ebola, an online audio series hosted by the U.S. Department of State.

Lindsay Coates is the executive vice president of InterAction -- the largest U.S. alliance of nongovernmental organizations working on global poverty issues. Coates also serves on boards of the Episcopal Relief and Development as well as the World Bank Global Partnership for Social Accountability.