Ebola – Time To Get Strategic
The terrible news about the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa rolls on and on. Fear, ignorance, lack of medical facilities, together with a degree of superstition, have turned a calamity into a crisis.
I can only feel immense shock and deep sorrow for the people affected and their families, and I worry for my friends in that part of the world.
Now, it seems, we must also worry about Ebola nearer to home. International travel means not only that people can circumnavigate the globe in a couple of days but so can the illnesses they may harbour.
Now factor in the prospect of illegal bushmeat (the meat of wild animals), smuggled out of Africa, potentially bringing this deadly disease to our shores.
What’s to be done?
As Born Free commented to the national press just a few days ago, improved law enforcement at our borders, stricter penalties for smuggling illegal wild animal meat products, better record keeping and a longterm commitment to the the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (currently only funded up to 2016) may all be a part of the solution.
Equally important, however, should be our efforts to assist the countries where the problem originates. Medical support in remote areas and investment in long-term poverty relief, using some of the UK’s £11 billion annual overseas development budget, are vital.
But to be really effective we need to be strategic. The UK Government has already taking a global lead in seeking to tackle the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade. Now we need to raise our game and fund technical training for border and customs officials in developing countries and invest resources to try and prevent bushmeat products leaving their country of origin in the first place.
It’s also essential that we engage more intensively with leaders of communities, whether in Africa or here in the UK – for whom bushmeat may be a traditional or prestige food – to explain the risks and to encourage them to alert their respective communities.
We simply must try and reduce the danger by ending the demand for bushmeat - potentially saving many innocent human lives and, in the process, sparing the lives of many wild animals as well!