5 Root Causes of the Ebola Crisis and How to Prevent a Future Outbreak

As we are inundated with media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including Sierra Leone, it is important to recognize the root causes of this international public health crisis. On a global scale, these causes are war, poverty and privatized healthcare. By addressing these deeper root causes we can develop the tools and resources required to address the immediate and massive needs of those affected by the current crisis—the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history—and prevent similar complex global health crises in the future.

1. War is the Greatest Threat to Global Public Health

Every year war destroys the lives of millions of people around the world. In contemporary conflicts up to 90% of the victims are civilians. In addition to causing countless casualties and physical injuries war also decimates the basic systems and structures needed for a healthy society.

Ebola is the latest in a long list of medical needs in West Africa, one of the poorest regions in the world due to years of war. Even though the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone ended over a dozen years ago, there remains a serious lack of international investment and support to rebuild their healthcare system. Years of conflict in Sierra Leone have destroyed its medical infrastructure, such as hospitals, clinics and medical schools, leaving much of the population without access to trained health care professionals equipped with necessary supplies. This pervasive and prolonged situation leaves the local population dangerously vulnerable to a crisis such as the current Ebola outbreak.


Demand at the EMERGENCY hospital in Sierra Leone has significantly increased due to the current Ebola outbreak.

It is only after peace has returned and medical infrastructure has been rebuilt that the people of Sierra Leone will have the resources to properly handle a crisis like the current Ebola outbreak.

2. Wealth Disparity is a Major Obstacle to Treatment

Enormous income disparity creates unstable societies that are susceptible to crisis. Lack of affordable access to basic health care adds to the quick spread of a deadly virus such as Ebola. The ability of neighboring countries to respond to the spread of Ebola can exacerbate the current crisis and demonstrates the challenges post-conflict nations face.

Income disparity correlates to differences in life expectancy. The average life span in West Africa is already only 47 years, while in the United States the average life expectancy is 80. Improving the health and life expectancy of the most vulnerable among us is a key indicator for the progress of global heath.


Mohammed, age 12, in Sierra Leone was provided free life-saving surgery by EMERGENCY after he fell out of a tree.

In order to equip all nations to handle a global health crisis of this magnitude, it is important to invest in healthcare programs in these areas. The Ebola crisis has been going on for over three months and will most likely last several more. Many victims are and will continue to survive this horrible disease, however, once the crisis is resolved, the survivors in this region will still struggle to find affordable access to basic healthcare until the international community deepens its investments in nationwide and cross border solutions focused on areas of greatest need.

3. A Lack of Investment in the Highest Level of Healthcare

Quality healthcare is a top-down system. Surgeons, physicians, nurses and public health professionals are limited by the quality of the system in which they work. Those looking to gain certain skills or experience have the opportunity to grow and excel when working in a fully supported system that includes the knowledge and tools to provide the most advanced levels of care such as surgery and medical specialties like pediatrics.


Providing surgical care can support other medical services such as pediatrics.

As news of the Ebola crisis spreads, it is easy to lose sight of significant medical needs that existed in West Africa before the outbreak. Traumatic injuries requiring surgery, such as those caused by traffic accidents are a major chronic unmet need. Not allocating funds toward the most advanced levels healthcare infrastructure in this region leaves many life-threatening needs unmet. Meeting these needs, alongside addressing the spread of life-threatening contagious diseases like Ebola, means investing in hospitals that can provide surgery and pediatrics in addition to vaccinations and pharmaceuticals.


Since 2001 over 500,000 people have been treated with high-standard free-of-charge healthcare at the EMERGENCY hospital in Sierra Leone.

Investing in high quality healthcare facilities offering the most advanced levels of medicine, such as the EMERGENCY Surgical Center in Sierra Leone, provide urgent surgical and emergency care as well as pediatrics and immunizations and supports the long term development of a healthy Sierra Leone.

4. Privatization of Healthcare that Profit from Sick and Dying People

The right to health is clearly described in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many people who are suffering from illness or life-threatening conditions are denied access to privatized health care because they cannot afford it. In many instances, privatized health care impoverishes those who need it most. In order to achieve the level of care and quality of life to which all humans are entitled, healthcare services must be high standard and free-of-charge, affording people the dignity and respect they deserve. This means building hospitals and clinics that provide the quality of care that we would want for our family members in their time of need.


Quality healthcare is a human right, otherwise it’s a privilege reserved for an elite few.

Access is one of the major challenges faced by those who attempt to exercise their right to health. This can be overcome in part by building more fully equipped, free-of-charge hospitals and clinics as well as educating the local population to work in and run these facilities.

Proper medical treatment ends the moment healthcare is driven by profit rather than by human need. Pharmaceuticals are one important part of curbing the spread of infectious diseases. However, focusing on this aspect alone fails to address the complex solutions that are needed to respond to the current Ebola outbreak and others of its kind. The profit driven model to develop drugs continues to abandon people who are sick and dying.

Healthcare as a human right includes public health, as local community healthcare workers and other professionals are vital in addressing social and emotional issues with respect for local customs and culture which is needed to efficiently solve complex health issues.

5. Insufficient Education and Job Opportunities

Disease prevention includes awareness building in healthy communities. To solve the immediate Ebola crisis, there must be a focus on and continued support for complicated and time consuming collaborative efforts to control the spread of the disease. This includes contact tracing, humane quarantines, as well as providing necessary educational resources to those areas currently at risk.


A healthy global future for all depends on the decisions we make today.

However, the long-term health of the region depends upon education alongside stable well-paying jobs for those who dedicate their lives to health work. Local medical education at the highest level is vital to growing a much-needed community of regional professionals and encouraging them address the significant needs close to home.

In addition to medical education, programs that include local personnel training and employ local staff trained and empowered to stop this outbreak are better equipped for future situations that may occur. While healthcare is top-down system, the development of education and jobs must be up from the grassroots-up.

EMERGENCY provides education and training for local staff as our goal is to eventually be able to turn the hospital over to the local community with continued support from the Ministry of Health. For the last thirteen years, beginning during the war, our hospital has provided education and jobs for the people of Sierra Leone. Currently in Goderich there are over 200 Sierra Leoneans who work at our hospital and about 20 international staff who help provide education to their local peers. The Ebola outbreak makes it clear that there is still a major need to train as many Sierra Leonean surgeons, nurses, physician and related health workers as possible.


What can be done now?

Now is the time for the international community, working in collaboration with the people and organizations fighting Ebola as well as those providing other forms of healthcare in the region, to significantly increase long term investment towards building West Africa’s healthcare capacity.

EMERGENCY currently spends $10,000 a month to protect our hospital and staff from Ebola in Sierra Leone. Our funds primarily come from individual donors. However, other hospitals in the region lack the financial resources to take these precautions, leading to further spread of the disease.

Individual donations for the EMERGENCY Surgical Center in Sierra Leone help us to deliver high-quality healthcare to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. This year EMERGENCY has doubled the size of our Emergency Room in Sierra Leone, but a third and final new operating room is currently on hold due to lack of funds and the diversion of funds due to the Ebola crisis. With $80,000, we could open this additional operating room and provide life saving surgeries for an average cost of $1,000 each. This is a very reasonable price to help save a life or limb at the main trauma referral hospital for the entire nation. The new operating room would mean 400 more people each year for the next ten years would receive the life-saving surgical care they need.

We live in a global society and it’s our responsibility as caring members of a global community to support our neighbors’ access to basic healthcare. Everyone’s health depends on it, including yours.

To learn more about the high-standard free-of-charge surgical and pediatric care provided at our hospital in Sierra Leone, please click here. To help us protect our staff from Ebola so they can continue to treat people at the only hospital of its kind in Sierra Leone, please click here to donate now.

Eric Talbert
Executive Director
EMERGENCY USA – Life Support for Civilian Victims of War and Poverty eric.talbert@emergencyusa.org@eric_talbert
1016 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 211
San Francisco, CA 94129

MSNBC Interview on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show about Ebola in Sierra Leone

Eric Talbert, Executive Director of EMERGENCY USA, was interviewed on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and the impact its had on the EMERGENCY surgical and pediatric hospital near the capital city of Freetown. In this MSNBC segment hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry, Eric mentions the importance of a human rights based approach to medicine and public health in areas devastated by war as well as the financial investment being made to protect the EMERGENCY staff and hospital from Ebola. The EMERGENCY Surgical Center is the main trauma referral center for the entire country of Sierra Leone and is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Click here to watch the video that aired live nationwide on Saturday, August 9th.

Goderich Hospital

If you would like to help EMERGENCY USA protect our staff and hospital in Sierra Leone from Ebola, in order from them to be able to continue to provide high-standard free-of-charge medical care to the people of Sierra Leone, please click here to donate now.

Healthcare in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone

Mariata Travelled from Sierra Leone to Sudan for surgery

Mariata traveled from Sierra Leone to Sudan for surgery (Image Courtesy of CBS)

Thanks to the latest CBS “60 Minutes,” American viewers witnessed the journey that brought Mariata and Sufiatu, two young girls suffering a deadly heart condition, from Sierra Leone to Sudan where they were treated at the Salam Center, the only state-of-the-art facility that provides free cardiac surgery in Africa, run by EMERGENCY.

While the Salam Center is the only facility to offer such special cardiac surgery care in the entire continent, EMERGENCY is also very active in Sierra Leone, among other countries, where we provide surgical and pediatric care and preventative medicine.

In 2001, when a bloody civil war that killed more than 50,000 people and forced many more to flee the country was coming to an end, EMERGENCY began a program for war victims in Goderich, a village near Freetown. Today that program has expanded to also include a Pediatric Outpatient Department kids are treated mainly for malaria, anemia and respiratory infections. 

To learn more about the status of healthcare in Sierra Leone, we invite you to join us for an online chat with Sierra Leone former Information & Broadcasting Minister Cecile Blake, TV personality Nzinga Blake, and EMERGENCY USA  Executive Director Eric Talbert on Thursday May 20, 2014 at 10 AM PT/1 PM ET. RSVP here to participate and send us questions via Facebook and Twitter.

Baby being treated at the Sierra Leone Pediatric Center

Volunteer Appreciation Month: EMERGENCY USA Board of Directors


As all non-profits EMERGENCY USA couldn’t exist without the tireless work and selfless support of amazing volunteers. In celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Month, we would like to symbolically give back by highlighting the contribution of some of our incredible volunteers. If you of anyone who you think we should feature in our spotlight please let us know at sf@emergencyusa.org or Facebook, or Twitter.

Since this past March our dedicated board met in Los Angeles, where it was kindly hosted by board member Dr. Nafisa Abdullah, we would like to turn the spotlight on them and thank them for their strategic and organizational support, which has allowed EMERGENCY USA to grow as strong and independent institution in the US. In the words of Anna Gilmore, president of the board, “Everyone was fully engaged, present, motivated.  During the course of the weekend, we moved into a brilliantly honest, all-out quest to set the framework to realize our mission with greater and greater capacity, and increasing positive and lifesaving impact.  I am so honored to serve with this board!”



If you are curious about who the board members are here are gracious descriptions coming once again from Anna, “Board member Nafisa Abdullah centers and roots all of our endeavors in the heart of the mission. The expertise our executive director, Eric Talbert applies in framing solid proposals to usher goals and vision into realization. The insights of Amira Resnick our national secretary — her questions so often serve as keys to unlock solutions or progress; the essential input and ironic sense of humor of David Sandry our Treasurer (I always learn something from David!); newly elected board member Mike Stead with a background in finances and an always-ready point-blank question along the lines of “Why not?” — followed by actions to give that vintage question great credibility; the academic rigor and clarity of Lara Jacobson, MD newly appointed to the board bringing a treasury of field expertise, and an unstoppable work ethic; and Michael Behrens, delightfully forthright and such a wise man with many facets of ideal experience — film, non-profit, communications, fundraising.

We asked new board member Michael Behrens about his first impressions. This is what he had to say, “My first Board retreat with the EMERGENCY USA team was a life changing  experience. Every board member has such a unique personality and so willing to give their time and expertise. As a new member of the group, I was a bit nervous and not sure what to expect, but almost immediately the nerves flowed away as I was embraced by this warm, and intelligent group of professionals that are truly passionate about EMERGENCY USA‘s mission. In addition to the Board, I was able to meet volunteers, patients, family and friends of EMERGENCY USA at several events and dinners hosted by the Board. After 48 hours planning, socializing and brainstorming with this dynamic group I returned to San Francisco invigorated and ready to spread the word about the support we provide for civilian victims of war. It is truly an honor to serve on this board and I look forward to learning more about the group, EMERGENCY USA and myself as we all strive to reach our individual and organizational goals so we can can supply our brave health professionals with the resources and tools they need to continue saving lives around the world.”

We can tell Michael was pretty excited and humbled by this opportunity. This is what he wrote while heading to the retreat.

Along with the board members, participating in the retreat were Berkeley Board Fellows Jessica Foster and Willy Chu whose work with us in a strategic planning project is extremely timely for EMERGENCY USA.  And Dr. Mimi Yu, who has introduced a fantastic spark of energy and momentum to our Los Angeles events and who brings great insights to the table.  Finally, our facilitator, Mike Howe, was simply a master at his art — I would describe him as the ideal intersections of zen optimism and ultra-pragmatic realism. Last, but definitely not least, the lead scribe, Kaye Inandan with assistance from Melody Adesuyan, and Angela Poje did a fantastic job of recording the proceedings of the meeting.”

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If you’d like to volunteer in your local community with EMERGENCY USA please send an email to info@emergencyusa.org with “Volunteer” in the subject line.