The Problem with Project Based Global Health

The Ebola epidemic has brought new scrutiny to the health care infrastructure of Africa’s developing nations. While the attention and resources now pouring in from the international community is welcome, many of these countries’ health care systems were in crisis long before Ebola swept through them. So while we rush to contain this devastating disease, let’s heed the lessons of past failures, lessons that are especially pertinent for the current epidemic.

The trap that many governments and NGOs fall into is that their aid is tied to specific projects, say eradicating malaria. All of their resources are poured into meeting whatever one goal they have. Once they reach that goal, or run out of resources, they move on. This strategy ignores the long-term shortage of supplies and personnel. The article gives the example of gloves. Hospitals and doctors offices here have a seemingly endless supply of them, but in Liberia, they only have enough for every health worker to have a couple of pairs a week. So people improvise, washing them in chlorine before reusing them, or using plastic bags on their hands. Or they go without them, leaving them vulnerable to diseases, including Ebola. All of this is ironic considering that Liberia is home to one of the world’s largest rubber factories. They make gloves, they just export them overseas. So as we pour billions of dollars into stopping Ebola, let’s remember that Liberians will still need gloves and other supplies long after Ebola is gone.


On gloves, rubber and the spatio-temporal logics of global health, Somatosphere