Lindner: Ebola puts ′social fabric′ in danger | Africa | DW | 10.11.2014
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Africa

Lindner: Ebola puts 'social fabric' in danger

Ebola continues to ravage West Africa and has claimed almost 5,000 lives. Germany's special representative on Ebola, Walter Lindner, 57, says the emphasis now should be on defeating the virus, not on past omissions.

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DW: The Ebola epidemic clearly represents a major international public health emergency, I would like to begin by asking you in your capacity as the German government's special representative in the fight against Ebola, for your personal assessment of the magnitude of the challenges that we now currently face as the result of that emergency.

Walter Lindner: I spent more than two weeks in the region. For me it was important to see what is happening on the ground and what kind of burden the people there are facing. My impression, of course, is that the magnitude of the problem is gigantic. It's not only the medical issues, there are also economic and social repercussions. The social fabric of these three countries is in danger. So many habits have to be broken, turned upside down. And this made a huge impact on me.

Do you agree with the assessment of Anthony Banbury, the man who is in charge of the United Nations mission on Ebola, who says that the rate of transmission is slowing down in some parts of West Africa, but accelerating massively in other parts especially in capital cities? Is that a fair description of the problem?

I think, yes. Of course, I know Banbury is a very reasonable man and he is basing his comments on the latest figures from theWHO. We are seeing not a decline, but somewhat less steep increase in Liberia and maybe in Guinea as well. But on the other hand, we still have a steep increase in Sierra Leone. It is very difficult to predict.

You mentioned at the beginning the impact that it is having is on a very fabric of society. Can you describe that for us?

West Africans are very outgoing. They hug one another, they have body contact. Now they are being told to avoid body contact, which means, there is no hugging and no shaking of hands. On the streets, in the discotheque or even in restaurants you have to keep your distance. It's better not to touch any one. Some of this might be irrational, because if people haven't been exposed to an infected individual, there shouldn't be any danger.

What in concrete terms is the German government doing to respond?

First of all, I think this has already been said several times, we all came late, which is true. This applies not only to the Germans but to the rest of the world - almost - including the UN. But this is not my concern right now, because this is a lesson learnt for the future. When I arrived in the region I saw that quite a number of things were already happening - initiated by the Germans. The airlift undertaken by the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, and the medical laboratory in Conakry,

I would like to go back to one aspect of what we have been talking about which you sort of dodged out a little bit. Why did the West respond too late?

I keep getting this question. My energy is focused on what we could do right now. We came late and there were many reasons for this such as international focus on Ukraine, the Gaza strip, on the ISIS and many other things. There may be several reasons. Let's talk about this once we have overcome this crisis.

Walter Johannes Lindner is the German government's special representative for Ebola. He was German ambassador to Kenya from 2006 to 2009. Other appointments include Director for Africa Policy at the German Foreign Ministry.

Interview: Peter Craven

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