The Ebola Crisis Is Another Call to Action

We in the private sector need to do better, do more and act more quickly to prevent another deadly catastrophe.

The Ebola outbreak that emerged recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo came just one week after a previous Ebola outbreak ended. Although new cases seem to be plateauing, thanks to an early distribution of vaccines and experimental treatments, experts warn that this is no time to cease fighting this deadly, highly contagious disease.

According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola outbreak in the Congo has, to date, killed more than 100 people, and the numbers are still increasing.

This should light a fire under the coalitions and partnerships among many companies and government organizations. We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent future tragedies.

Not only can we save lives – we can also drive our business goals forward. I’ll describe the importance of this “shared-value” business strategy in a moment.

Preparing for disaster

Disasters can strike anytime, anywhere. We react.

For example, during the 2014 West African outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people, UPS chartered humanitarian relief flights to Liberia for UNICEF and collaborated with the CDC and other organizations like Henry Schein to transport medical supplies and personal protection items to ensure the safety of health care workers.

UPS also transported more than 70 trucks to countries in West Africa to support the mobilization of CDC workers, who were working to educate rural communities on disease prevention and care. The outbreak drove essential investment among many organizations to help prevent the disease.

Nevertheless, the Congo’s tumultuous political climate, poor vaccination coverage and lack of drinkable water create a high risk of future outbreaks. It will take major reforms to reduce this risk.

We must work proactively to prepare for emergencies before they happen. We need to help strengthen the capacity of governments, communities and organizations to withstand an outbreak like Ebola. Achieving this goal requires all hands on deck.

UPS can help by playing to our strengths, coordinating transportations logistics and investing in partners such as UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, The World Food Programme  and others.

Partners contribute their expertise and products as well. In the aftermath of the West Africa outbreak in 2014, UPS became a founding member, along with other private sector companies, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, of the Pandemic Supply Chain Group, which identifies the most urgent health needs and develops plans to expedite these vital supplies for future outbreaks.

UPS delivers humanitarian relief.

UPS also provides tools to assist with response planning to help expedite relief supplies in the future. UPS provided response agencies with a database of air carriers and routes that can enable these agencies to quickly identify which cargo carriers have flights into impacted countries.

When future disasters strike, we can quickly assess our transportation capacity and develop logistics strategies. Healthcare companies stand ready to provide vaccines to healthcare workers on the ground.

UPS is also working with The Task Force for Global Health and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on community pandemic preparedness efforts and also partners with the Private Sector Roundtable, a group of 40 companies supporting the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), launched in February 2014 to set up early-warning systems to detect infectious disease outbreaks.

Creating shared value

As I mentioned above, “doing good” isn’t only the right thing to do. In some ways, altruism has business value. When doing good drives commercial value to a company, altruism permeates the organization’s strategy. That incentivizes contributing to humanitarian causes on a broader scale.

Harvard professor Michael Porter and managing director of the social impact advisory firm FSG Mark Kramer call this practice “creating shared value.” Simply put, when a company generates economic value in a way that also addresses societal problems, that company can make a great impact.

UPS’s work in Africa specifically aligns with our shared value strategy. Both our emerging market strategy and our healthcare industry goals include actively building networks in Africa, both in the private and public sectors.

UPS delivers lifesaving vaccines, blood and medicines to Africa. We collaborate with our healthcare customers and others who are actively engaged in providing vaccines to organizations that distribute them to those in need. Not only do we help communities in Africa develop resilience to fight diseases, we also deepen our relationships with target markets.

We can and will do better

We need private sector-led coalitions to activate with more intensity. To get vaccines, medicines and medical supplies to the people who need it most, we have to make them accessible, affordable and available.

We need to improve infrastructure, shore up hospitals and clinics, create resilient supply chains and maintain a more agile healthcare logistics system.

To do so means collaborating. Shared value must also include shared commitment. Let us strengthen communication among partners and engage stakeholders in the private sector to advance the cause.

Together we can help prevent these tragic disasters all over the world. We simply cannot wait until the next outbreak to take action.

[Top Photo: Bex Levine, CDC Global/CC BY 2.0]

Eduardo Martinez is President of the UPS Foundation and UPS’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, He is responsible for the operations and management of UPS’s global philanthropic, employee engagement, corporate relations and diversity and inclusion programs.

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