UN Humantarian Fleet

When Begging is Too Late – Think Prevention!

By James E. Copple

Efforts to combat the Ebola virus are in full-throttle, with the regrettable but predictable picking-up-the-pieces in a crisis that is preventable but difficult to sell until worst-case scenarios lead the news.

The CDC projects nearly 1.4 million people could contract the disease by the first of the year. Ebola, which is contracted through exchange of body fluids and poor sanitation, defies a simple cure but is clearly preventable. The fact that the epicenter of the current crisis is in West Africa complicates interventions that could prevent its spread.

So now, nearly every non-profit, faith-based organization or NGO is rushing to get the message out: give to me; donate to us; we have the best-packaged intervention. The reality is these organizations know full-well the best they can offer under current circumstances is palliative care. They will provide housing, water and guidance about how to prevent its spread, but to do anything systemic is beyond their capacity. Begging for resources at this point seems a little late.

Famine relief isn’t much better: Like a mighty wind consuming everything in its path, famine destroys the environment and facilitates a debilitating hunger that takes about seven years of consistent rain to break its grip on a region. Again, the agencies seeking donations scramble to provide food through distribution centers, to provide some kind of relief that is ultimately only a Band-Aid on another cancer. Famine is a man-made catastrophe supported by massive regimes of corruption.

The Ebola virus and famine are predictable and preventable, yet we don’t invest our resources in preventing these crises. We are much better at pulling the ox out of the ditch than keeping the ox out of the ditch in the first place.  The investments to prevent and forecast these catastrophes are much smaller than the funding needed to fix or treat the consequences of a pandemic. Yet, we continue in our ways: Don’t bother me until it is a real crisis, with people dying and suffering. Show me pictures of malnourished African children begging for the morsels from the king’s table, and then I might find the time to write a check.

We have never been able to adequately support prevention – people can’t see it;  touch it; nor internalize and envision intervention that really makes a difference. We are sold on the instant gratification of good deeds and motivated by the feeling of having done something tangible vs the unassuming ditch-avoidance of the every-day. We seem to think it is a matter of guessing, but prevention research is pretty clear: We save money when we create policies, borne from planning, that change the environment where disease and famine flourish.

Write those checks for palliative care – I will support groups like Heart to Heart International, whose specialty is disaster relief – but also think about donations that invest in the future. At the same time, we must look at ways to address the issues that contribute to famine and diseases that ravage populations – issues like climate change; water shortages and water-distribution; food-supply and population migration; and access to health services.

Our failure to invest in the systemic policy issues that prevent disasters will require we again go begging to save lives and clean up the mess of our short-sighted neglect.

I encourage you to make a donation that invests in the future!

For a donation to Heart to Heart International for Disaster Relief Services CLICK HERE

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