Bioethics Blogs

Responding to Ebola: Retrofitting Governance Systems

In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks observes that governance, in the form of multilateral organizing, is missing from the response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Unfortunately, global organization and health infrastructure building too often occur in the midst of a public health emergency. A better way to contain and manage these crises is to build institutions before disaster strikes. Emergency response by foreign powers only helps in the short term and takes a public health concern out of the civil domain.

As of September 15th, President Obama has guaranteed to deploy 3,000 troops to Liberia to help with the construction of a 1,700 treatment bed facility. The U.S. military will supply engineers to aid building and other service members to help train local health care workers. Partly motivating this action is Obama’s concern that Ebola presents a global security risk to the U.S. Further, he stated on September 16th, “[T]his is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security – it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic.”

Public health emergencies allow designated officials to take extraordinary actions – ones that signify expansive powers, often beyond legislative approval – to contain and manage imminent threats. The latest U.S. intervention follows from a direct plea from the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who worries that the Ebola outbreak may erupt into civil chaos. Further, there is fear that if Ebola spread to an unstable state such as South Sudan, which has banned foreign aid workers, the results would be grave.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.