How Humanitarian Action Urges World Leaders to Prepare for the Next Epidemic

At the end of 2013, two-year old toddler Emile was the first patient to die from a mysterious disease in a small village in south-eastern Guinea. A few months later, hospital workers reported similar cases to Guinea’s Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontiers. Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea were the symptoms – and the death rate was exceptionally high: of the 86 first patients reported, 59 died. By the time the virus was identified to be the Zaire species, the deadliest virus in the Ebola family, the disease was already spreading to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. 16 months later, the epidemic had killed five times more people than all preceding Ebola outbreaks combined – an estimated 11,300 patients. At the peak of the tragedy, Joanne Liu, the International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, spoke in front of the United Nations – declaring the outbreak a transnational crisis and charging the international community to quick, coordinated and global action. The response came, but too little – too late. According to Joanne, failure of political accountability, leadership and wrong incentives in drug development contributed to the scale of the human tragedy. For the time being, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa could be stopped. The next global health crisis might be around the corner, but would world leaders be prepared to come up with a better reaction? At Falling Walls, Joanne argues for a paradigm shift in rapid response to global health challenges and shows why the developed nations of the West can no longer stand by and watch when the next disaster strikes.

Joanne Liu is the International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) since October 2013. A Canadian-born physician specialised in paediatric emergency medicine, she started working with MSF in 1996 – on missions in Mauretania, Kenya, Haiti and Sudan. As the organisation’s International President, she led the global efforts to contain the recent Ebola outbreak, and continues to push international policy makers towards better emergency response plans. Her outstanding leadership during the Ebola crisis earned her a place among the top 10 World’s Greatest Leaders (Fortune).

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