The juxtaposition of these two stories on The Guardian’s website speaks volumes.
As previously noted at Croakey, the Australian Government appears to have its head stuck firmly in the sand when it comes to responding appropriately to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Desperate times call for desperate measures – when considered public health advice won’t convince the politicians, it may be time to bring out the cartoonists.
An anonymous Croakey contributor has gone to the trouble of providing some suggestions for how the nation’s cartoonists might help create some political momentum.
It is six months since the first reported case of Ebola in West Africa.
You know the story from there:
- Rapid spread in three desperately poor countries (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone)
- A social and economic crisis causing fear and mistrust that has set the region back many years
- Frequent desperate calls for on the ground assistance from the affected governments and a wide range of organisations and individuals
- A public health emergency declared international, but a ‘too little, too late’ international response
- A ‘tin ear’ from Australia despite loud calls for greater human and financial commitment. A ‘modest-at-best’ financial contribution. Long periods of silence from political leaders.
Convincing the Australian Government to respond more whole-heartedly – what has not worked:
- Direct requests to the international community from affected countries, and to all member states from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) through special emergency sessions and documents like the Ebola Response Roadmap
- Multiple calls for action from learned international bodies and individuals, including the President of the World Bank
- Calls for action from mining and resources companies with operations in Africa, and through editorials in Australian newspapers
- Direct requests from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and MSF refusal of financial support offered by Australian Government
- Calls for action by Australian Medical Association, Public Health Association of Australia and others
- Direct testimony from Australians working in West Africa for NGOs, such as MSF and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and WHO
- Data on actual and projected numbers of cases from US Centers for Disease Control and WHO, and the impact of delaying the response even by a week or a month
- Calls from WHO to all governments (including Australia) to make cooperative arrangements to support citizens working as volunteers in the region, for NGOs or as part of Foreign Medical Teams, including options for treatment in country, and evacuation where necessary and appropriate.
- Examples of positive governmental action and deployment of personnel from US, UK, China, Ghana, Germany and Cuba
- Recent request from US President for international community to do more, and explaining limits of what US alone can achieve in Liberia.
Conclusion: We need a different approach. Data, reason, health advocacy and appeals from the heart are not enough. Perhaps this is the time for irony and the skills of cartoonists to be brought to the table?
Not having such skills, I offer the following as material for cartoonists to consider:
Border security: the gap between the extensive efforts the Australian government has put in to ‘secure its borders’ and detect any imported Ebola case (none so far), and its lukewarm support for action to address the crisis where it most matters in West Africa
Risk perception: the over-wrought media reaction every time there is a ‘suspected case’ in Australia vs. the lack of reaction to actually infected, affected and at-risk people in West Africa
Priorities: the willingness of the Australian government to enter international military coalitions in contrast to its reluctance to join genuine international humanitarian coalitions
Language: the misuse of the word ‘humanitarian’ in relation to military action in Northern Iraq, whilst at the same time failing to mount or participate in a genuine humanitarian mission to West Africa
Proportionality: the speed and magnitude of our response to the situation in Northern Iraq compared to the grudging, half-hearted response to West Africa.
Personalities: the eagerness with which we present ourselves as international players and opinion leaders on the UN Security Council, and our excessive caution in this matter
Morality: leaving Australian citizens and volunteers, and non-government organisations like MSF and ICRC to do the hard yards and take the risks on the ground, while the Australian Government stands by and fails to make appropriate contingency plans for their treatment and evacuation
Contrasts: ‘Australia/Abbott – action man on Iraq and Ukraine – missing in action on climate change and Ebola’
• See Croakey’s previous posts on Ebola here.