How a Private Company Stopped Ebola

Why would a company like Firestone have more incentive to fight Ebola better than a government? Self-interest. Firestone owns a rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia. The following NPR report is fascinating and encouraging:

“Harbel is a company town not far from the capital city of Monrovia. It was named in 1926 after the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Harvey and his wife, Idabelle. Today, Firestone workers and their families make up a community of 80,000 people across the plantation.”

In order to protect its financial interest, a company like Firestone must find ways to insure that its properties will be there in the future. Governments throw power and money at problems because in the aggregate they don’t have anything personal to lose. Private companies don’t have the ability to crate money to fix financial problems. This means that at the first sign of trouble that might affect the bottom line, they must take decisive action.

“Firestone detected its first Ebola case on March 30, when an employee’s wife arrived from northern Liberia. She’d been caring for a disease-stricken woman and was herself diagnosed with the disease. Since then Firestone has done a remarkable job of keeping the virus at bay. It built its own treatment center and set up a comprehensive response that’s managed to quickly stop transmission. Dr. Brendan Flannery, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s team in Liberia, has hailed Firestone’s efforts as resourceful, innovative and effective.”

Firestone’s response is diametrically opposed to the collectivism of common ownership. When everybody is told that they are the owners of everything, then no one is responsible for anything. The collective has no interest in responding since the other guys are expected to respond. As a result, no one responds until it’s too late.

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Government responses are hindered by protective bureaucracies and politics. The self-interest is misdirected. The State must protect itself from criticism since there’s always another election around the corner.

“When the Ebola case was diagnosed, ‘we went in to crisis mode,’ recalls Ed Garcia, the managing director of Firestone Liberia. He redirected his entire management structure toward Ebola.

“Garcia’s team first tried to find a hospital in the capital to care for the woman. ‘Unfortunately, at that time, there was no facility that could accommodate her,’ he says. ‘So we quickly realized that we had to handle the situation ourselves.’

“The case was detected on a Sunday. Garcia and a medical team from the company hospital spent Monday setting up an Ebola ward. Tuesday the woman was placed in isolation.

“‘None of us had any Ebola experience,’ he says. They scoured the Internet for information about how to treat Ebola. They cleared out a building on the hospital grounds and set up an isolation ward. They grabbed a bunch of hazmat suits for dealing with chemical spills at the rubber factory and gave them to the hospital staff. The suits worked just as well for Ebola cases.

“Firestone immediately quarantined the woman’s family. Like so many Ebola patients, she died soon after being admitted to the ward. But no one else at Firestone got infected: not her family and not the workers who transported, treated and cared for her.

“The Firestone managers had the benefit of backing and resources of a major corporation — something the communities around them did not.”

So it was a profiteering, greedy, and self-interested corporation that set up procedures to save lives. In an attempt to save their company, they ended up saving the lives of others.

Read the rest of the article here.


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