Ebola and the Security Sector: Opportunities and Limits of Security Sector Engagement in Global Health Crises

Thursday, 5 February 2015, 16:00-18:30
Maison de la Paix, the Graduate Institute, Geneva

Organised by the Global Health Programme, the Graduate Institute and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces

The recent Ebola outbreak in Western Africa has had serious implications for human security and economic development in the affected countries. It has also raised concern about political stability in countries that have been severely affected by civil war. Delayed and disorganized initial attempts to contain the quickly emerging epidemic, and fears of further spill-over across and beyond the countries concerned as well as the African continent made it abundantly clear that more effective approaches are needed to both prevent and manage such global health crises.

The economic, security and humanitarian dimensions of such a health crisis call for action in different sectors and at several levels, global, regional, national and local. This includes financial investment and support to provide emergency health care as well as public health measures to contain the spread of the disease; diplomatic and political efforts to prevent potential political instability and to build trust; and efforts to help affected populations cope with the crisis and its aftermath and recover from the suffering and the social and economic impact it has caused. It will be critical to put in place structures and institutions to prevent future crises of similar magnitude in the countries concerned - but also to learn from this initially “disastrously inadequate response” how to build preparedness and response mechanisms at the global level that stand ready to support countries in the event of a major disease outbreak.

The challenges that emerged to assist affected nations in managing and containing the Ebola outbreak raise the question as to which contributions security institutions can and should make to manage global health crises. How can benefits of security sector involvement in health crises be maximized and disadvantages minimized? What are the structural deficiencies of existing crisis preparedness and response mechanisms? What are the governance challenges at the national and international level, including the role of national security institutions, regional economic and security arrangements, and the United Nations System?

The public event will address these issues with engaged academics, policy makers and international organisations, including participants from West Africa. It will discuss lessons learnt and experiences from Ebola and previous global health crises, in order to put forward recommendations directed at the health, the humanitarian and the security sector communities. Therefore, the event will bridge and bring these perspectives closer together, potentially providing a more coherent, cross-sectorial approach to this global challenge.

The event is sponsored by the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.