Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation explores the unintended consequences of Western aid on the Ebola crisis.

President Obama is sending military personnel and $750 million to Liberia and other Ebola-afflicted countries in West Africa. At this point, such aid might offer the only hope of containing this deadly epidemic—but foreign aid also had a big hand in creating Africa’s Ebola problem in the first place.

How? By breeding a dependence mentality that has prevented these counties from generating their internal institutional defenses to deal with public health emergencies.

Nothing illustrates this better than the contrasting courses of the disease in Liberia, one of the most heavily indebted countries on the continent, and Nigeria, one of the least.

Global aid agencies have berated America and other Western countries for their plodding response and letting Ebola’s hemorrhagic virus infect about 10,000 people in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, killing roughly half of them. But the reality is that distant powers, no matter how well intentioned, have never been any good at proactively identifying and responding to such emergencies, precisely because they are distant. Hence, they have to rely on intermediary groups such as the World Health Organization, which happens to have an unbroken record of botching every response to every recent epidemic, from bird flu to cholera. But even if the WHO were less dysfunctional, it is far from clear that it could orchestrate a global response that could effectively replace strong leadership by local authorities. And local government rarely develops strong institutional abilities and leadership if it is too dependent for too long on foreign aid.

Dalmia’s work reminds this observer of economist William Easterly‘s analysis of the impact of foreign aid on African countries.