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Ebola Showed Aid Delivery Needs Overhaul

FILE - American aid goods are loaded onto a truck after it arrived by airplane, to be used in the fight against the Ebola virus spreading in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 24, 2014.

The Ebola epidemic exposed long-standing holes in aid delivery, which desperately needs an overhaul before the next international emergency hits, aid experts said on Thursday.

Many of the shortcomings seen during the Haiti earthquake of slow responses and uncoordinated relief efforts were repeated during the Ebola crisis that erupted in West Africa a year ago, they said.

With Sierra Leone and Guinea continuing to report cases of the deadly virus, the international community must act urgently, said Carolyn Reynolds, external relations manager at the World Bank.

"We need to think outside the box," she said at a panel on global health preparedness held on Capitol Hill.

The international community must build a rapid response system to get supplies and healthcare workers onto the ground within days, not months; improve coordination amongst multiple donors; and strengthen healthcare systems, she said.

The next epidemic will strike faster and harder, and the international community is not prepared, she warned.

Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director at the anti-poverty group ONE, said many of the same problems seen in Haiti, which lacked a single aid tracking system, persist today. There is no method for monitoring how much each government commits, whether the aid is delivered and what happens on the ground, she said.

ONE tried to build a tracking system, but found the information was too disparate, she said.

"We really need to overhaul our response to crises," Hohlfelder said.

United Parcel Service (UPS), the international delivery service, is working on one logistical solution. UPS has worked with the U.N. Refugee Agency to develop Relief Link, a handheld scanner that will track supplies from departure point to delivery, said Leslie Griffin, UPS senior vice president for international public policy.

The device uploads information into a central database, allowing organizations to track down to the last mile whether aid reaches its destination. Aid recipients are given ID cards with biometric data embedded to record receipt, cutting down on fraud and lessening duplication of aid delivery.

"These technologies are making sure that monies are even better spent and go where they are most needed," Griffin said.

The UPS example demonstrates how public-private partnerships can bring innovative ideas to aid delivery, said Charles Stokes, president of CDC Foundation. He urged more conversations among businesses, civil society, philanthropic groups and donors.

"The middle of the crisis is not the time to exchange business cares. We have got to do better next time," Stokes said.