The number of Ebola cases in West Africa is steadily falling. As a result, the Berlin government plans to disband the task force that has coordinated German aid since last fall - and to take note of the lessons learned.
"The Ebola task force will be dissolved in mid-May," announced Walter Lindner, the German government's special envoy for the Ebola crisis, at a press conference in Berlin. According to the World Health Organization, the number of new infections is steadily declining and is now at a total level of about 30 per week in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three countries worst affected. It is too early to sound the all-clear, Lindner said, but in the "fight for zero" – the bid to reach zero new infections - Liberia in particular is making good progress.
When Lindner was appointed Ebola envoy seven months ago, the situation was very different. In autumn 2014 alarming reports from West Africa were coming thick and fast. More and more people died from Ebola, local health systems were overwhelmed, the international community – including Germany – reacted much too slowly. And so the government of Angela Merkel recalled the veteran diplomat and Africa expert from his post as ambassador to Venezuela. "Back then we were looking at an apocalypse," Lindner said. His job was to coordinate the German aid. Up to a million cases by the end of 2014, that was the horrific prospect at the time.
Humility rather than pride
Lindner set off almost immediately for the Liberian capital Monrovia, his first of seven trips to the region. "People close to death were lying outside the treatment tents," he said. Taxis drove up and patients were pushed out, "conditions were bad." There were not enough beds or medical staff until reinforcements were organized at international level.
In addition to 195 million euros ($218 million) of immediate aid, Germany provided "Transall" transport planes from its air force fleet, to fly material and equipment to the region via the Senegalese capital Dakar. Since many regular flights had been suspended, the airlift with more than 330 flights was "a huge success," Lindner said.
He also paid tribute to the work of experts from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) who had helped in many areas. Last but not least, the specially equipped German air force Medivac plane had been on standby to evacuate the more than 300 German volunteers as well as international helpers. In view of the Ebola death toll of almost 11,000 and the belated reaction by the international community, Lindner said these successes should be viewed with humility rather than pride.
Better prepared for future crises
An analysis of the mistakes made by the international community during the Ebola crisis is currently being conducted by the United Nations and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Lindner is ready to share the experiences he made during his time as Ebola envoy. The battle against Ebola had been a completely new experience, he said, and the knowledge and skills acquired should not be forgotten. He favors the setting up of a pool of medically trained personnel and says national contributions, such as the German Medivac plane, should be registeredd with the EU's crisis management team. He gave an assurance that Germany would continue to stand by the affected countries. To this end a new department is being set up at the foreign ministry whose task will be to identify potential crisis at an early state and ensure aid is made available without delay.
Lindner's close ties with Africa will continue when he takes up the post of ambassador to South Africa this summer.