According to Mr. Banbury, the latest Ebola outbreak started with a young boy in a small village in Guinea in 2013. It likely resulted from exposure to a contaminated fruit bat, or its feces. From that start it spread from person to person until a prominent village shaman contracted and died from the disease. The shaman’s funeral was widely attended and, following the burial rituals in place, many people made contact with the body with at least one of the attendees introducing it into Monrovia, an urban center. From that point the disease began disseminating much faster than any efforts to contain it and spreading to Sierra Leone and Liberia in addition to Guinea.
This disparity between the spread of the disease and attempts to deal with it is largely due to the reluctance of governments to put out news that might discourage investment in fast growing economies. But by August 2014 the number of infections reached a level that demanded attention. Some world political leaders took note and began to form responses. By December, 2014 there was an obvious pandemic in progress. It was at that point that Mr. Banbury was asked to focus on the problem for the U.N
What he found was a lot of fear and many individual and group efforts to fight the disease, but no master plan on how to coordinate these efforts and no overriding strategy on how to contain the disease and reduce its impact — in other words, no crisis management. Within a week of putting together recommendations on how to go about accomplishing these goals, Mr. Banbury was assigned the task of heading up a mission to reach these goals. The mission set up in Ghana and soon came up with a plan to isolate cases, break the disease transmission and establish safe burial practices. While many organizations and governments involved in fighting the disease recognized the need for such steps major resistance came from some groups that were reluctant to relinquish command and control as well as strong community resistance to changing established burial customs. Eventually, the mission overcame these pockets of resistance with the exception of some holdouts regarding burial customs. Consequently, the spread of the disease has been contained and much reduced to a point where Liberia is now virtually Ebola free and Sierra Leone and Guinea are now experiencing only small numbers of new cases.
Mr. Banbury feels there are lessons to be learned from this experience. These include:
- Prevention is much preferable to dealing with a disease crisis. Early detection is the key.
- Leadership is crucial.
- Some crises have to be resolved by the U.N. as it is the only organization with a broad enough scope.
- Strong crisis management is essential.
From Ebola, Mr. Banbury transitioned to U.N. peace keeping operations. He pointed out that there has been a dramatic increase in the number and expense of such operations in the past few years. Additionally, many of these operations are taking place in increasingly dangerous areas of the globe.
Yet, in spite of the proliferation of these events, the U.N. and nations are attempting to deal with them using tools from another era — tools established to resolve conflicts between nations. Today, conflicts are not so much between governmental entities, but involve age-old tensions and grievances between tribal units, religious groups and other less structured bodies. But the U.N. structures for dealing with them are heavily bureaucratic with rigid procedures. This needs to be changed in order to be more flexible, timely, and effective.
Q. How can the U.N. deal with Nepal?
A. This is going to be very tough. There will have to be a plan to deal with the long-term as well as the short-term needs. But as of now there is no coordination of the multiple efforts being made. And such coordination must work horizontally across groups and governments as well as vertically to make sure that all levels of effort are working in accord with the master strategy.
Q. Are you aware that Liberia’s President has a doctor brother working in Bridgeport Hospital?
A. No I wasn’t aware of that.
Q. Are you comfortable with efforts to keep terrorists from using a pandemic as a weapon?
A. I know that people were agonizing over that in the past. I don’t know what is being done now.
Q. Are current practices asking about foreign travel in the last 21 days effective?
A. These are risk-management efforts. An event is unlikely, but such an event could have a tremendous impact so why not take these steps.