Tackling Ebola must leave a legacy of stronger health systems
Having visited Sierra Leone and Liberia in June, when Ebola was causing concern but had not become a crisis, I have nothing but sympathy for the communities being torn apart by the epidemic and nothing but admiration for the health workers from the region and across the globe who are dedicating themselves to tackling this dreadful, contagious disease.
There are a number of crucial issues that arise. The first is that, although the UK, the USA and France were all engaged in helping to build health systems, they were overwhelmed by the outbreak.
The second is that the world only woke up to the threat when cases emerged in Europe and America. Self-interest, more than compassion, led to a massive upsurge in support for tackling the outbreak.
Now medical specialists and equipment are being transported in volume to the region and a whole variety of dedicated fund raising activities are getting off the ground, and as usual people are being exceptionally generous.
The third issue is the need to ensure that we not only control and eliminate the outbreak but that we create health systems that are capable of dealing with the threat of these kinds of crises in future.
What is tragic, for example, is that people suffering from diseases other than Ebola are going untreated because of the fear of infection and there is a real threat that polio which has been on the verge of elimination might re-emerge.
The legacy of this severe health scare must be to recognise the real role of development assistance and to target it, in partnership with developing countries, to train health workers at all levels and strengthen the economies so that through health, education and productive livelihoods they can progress and pay their way in the world moving beyond aid.
Scottish Government must deliver for NE health
The crisis in the local health service will not be solved by simply removing the management and hoping any share of the blame passes the health minister by.
We know that the Scottish Government has not matched the increase in spending on health delivered in England and passed to the Scottish Government who chose to divert it who knows where? In addition, free prescriptions and hospital parking have taken funds away from clinical budgets.
On top of that the North-east has been chronically and persistently short changed, and this in turn has aggravated recruitment and retention problems.
It is time the Scottish Government started delivering for the area instead of diverting funds to the central belt.
Surprise honour for sign language support
I was very surprised and deeply honoured to receive a life time achievement award from Signature, the organisation who awards qualifications for deaf and deaf blind communications across the UK at a recent ceremony in London.
I have a now grown-up deaf daughter and have only done what any parent would do which is to do what I can to improve the support for people with similar disabilities.
While we have achieved some improvements and technical innovation which have helped deaf people, including grants for communication support in learning and work, these are under review in the present climate. The Department of Work and Pensions doesn’t seem to understand why deaf professionals need two interpreters, not recognising that interpreters cannot work without regular breaks and relief.
We haven’t yet got a universal text relay service. Above all we have not got legal recognition of sign language on a par with Gaelic, Welsh and even Cornish.
I am pleased that a bill to provide for recognition of sign language is going though the Scottish Parliament and I hope that it might lead to UK wide recognition.
This would give deaf people the right to demand an interpreter in a wide variety of circumstances and could lead to the training and employment of many more interpreters.
I would also like to see sign language recognised as a foreign language on a par with French, German or Spanish. This would lead to a wider appreciation of sign language and increase the pool of potential interpreters.
I know the value of interpreters. I did an introductory course years ago and enjoyed it but I have not found the time to develop my skills. Now when I am at a gathering of deaf people, the connection we make with the help of an interpreter puts the deaf person in the driving seat and dramatically improves our understanding of each other.