According to international aid experts, last year's Ebola epidemic in West Africa exposed longstanding problems in the aid delivery system that desperately need to be fixed before the next emergency hits, Reuters reports.
At a discussion on Capitol Hill recently, panelists on global health preparedness said that many of the shortcomings seen during the 2010 Haiti earthquake — a slow response and uncoordinated relief efforts, due in part to the lack of a single aid-tracking system — were repeated during the Ebola crisis. With cases of the deadly virus still being reported in Sierra Leone and Guinea, said Carolyn Reynolds, external relations manager at the World Bank, the international community must act urgently to build a rapid response system able to get supplies and healthcare workers on the ground within days, not months; improve coordination among multiple donors; and strengthen healthcare systems. The next epidemic will strike faster and harder, Reynolds warned, and the international community is not prepared.
Five years after the Haiti earthquake, there is still no method for monitoring how much each government commits, whether the aid is delivered, and what happens on the ground, said Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director at the anti-poverty group ONE. The organization tried to build a tracking system, said Hohlfelder, but found the information to be too disparate and difficult to aggregate.
According to Leslie Griffin, senior vice president for international public policy at United Parcel Service, the international delivery service, in partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), is working on a logistical solution called Relief Link, a handheld scanner that tracks supplies from departure point to delivery. The device uploads information into a central database, enabling organizations to track, down to the last mile, whether aid supplies reach their intended destinations, while aid recipients are given ID cards with biometric data embedded to record receipt of the aid as a way to prevent fraud and reduce duplication of aid delivery.
The UPS-UNHCR effort demonstrates how public-private partnerships can bring innovative ideas to aid delivery, said CDC Foundation president Charles Stokes, who urged businesses, civil society, philanthropic groups, and donors to keep talking to each other. "The middle of the crisis is not the time to exchange business cards," he said. "We have got to do better next time."