Forbes 400 Fellow Katie Meyler’s voice trembled and her eyes teared up as she told a roomful of billionaires and philanthropists gathered for the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy Wednesday the plight of Sarah, a 10-year old girl from Liberia who lost her father and sister to Ebola before the disease killed her, too.
“How can we let this happen to one another?” asked Meyler, founder of More Than Me, an academy that provides education for girls in Liberia. “It’s not going to be okay until we make sure this doesn’t ever happen again.”
Rajesh Panjabi, also a Forbes 400 Fellow and co-founder of Last Mile Health, an organization that trains community health workers in rural Liberia and also supported the fight against Ebola, recalled what happened at Rivercess county in Liberia when the epidemic struck. After one woman died of Ebola, he said, the 12 people who attended her funeral were infected and died, too.
How can the world prepare for a future epidemic — the next Ebola? Is it possible to develop treatment for diseases that have not yet emerged? Such were the questions billionaire Bill Gates, renowned doctor Paul Farmer and Zimbabwe’s richest man and telecom mogul Strive Masiyiwa tackled after Meyler and Panjabi told their stories.
Farmer, who was presented with the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship by former President Bill Clinton, said simply: “The key lesson from tackling Ebola is unglamorous: strengthen local health systems.”
Indeed, the consensus in the room seemed to be that Africa needs a functional health care system across the continent, which at the moment does not exist in most African countries, and global philanthropy is necessary to help make that happen.
Masiyiwa, who was asked by the African Union Leader to mobilize African resources to fight Ebola, noted that while there are 54 sovereign African countries, Africa does not have a central government. Many African countries donated health care workers to combat the epidemic, he said, adding that most were military personnel, and the local governments relied on the private sector to fund transportation.
Masiyiwa also stressed that the three countries — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — affected by Ebola were post-conflict countries recovering from civil war. “What would have happened if it had been three conflict countries? If it had been Somalia or Northern Nigeria?” he asked.
Gates rang an optimistic note, saying that better tools have been created to diagnose and fight Ebola and there’s no need to panic about the next Ebola epidemic. But he added that other epidemics that transmit differently — such as a virus transmitted through the air rather than via bodily fluids, like Ebola — make continued investments necessary.
Gates emphasised the importance of global philanthropy in medical research to develop vaccines and create pilot models that help pioneer functional health systems that can eventually expand to the greater population through local governments.
“We have to look at this in a holistic global way and assume global responsibility and build the tools to equip us for the next [epidemic],” said Masiyiwa. ”Because there will be a next one.”
Learn more online
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa