The Global Health Implications, What To Do, and Why You Shouldn’t Panic
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a deadly virus first seen in 1976 in Southern Sudan. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle pains, and headache, leading to diarrhea, vomiting, and rash, and extensive internal and external bleeding. Since breaking out in December 2013 there have been over 8,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths, more than all previous outbreaks combined. It is only contagious from infected people who are experiencing symptoms, and is contracted from direct contact with bodily fluids. The current outbreak has the potential to infect 1.4 million people in western Africa by January.
Direct Contact With Bodily Fluids is Required for Contraction
The first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, died early October 7th, 2014 in Texas while receiving experimental treatment.
It has become a recurrent trend in our society for tragic and horrific occurrences happening in other parts of the world causing little distress to western populations. Yet as soon as one of these issues begins to directly affect the United States, as soon as it seems more tangible and imminent to the average citizen, there is panic, fear, and prejudice. This isn’t how we should be responding. Factually, Americans should be far more proactive about getting flu vaccinations than fearing the domestic implications of letting American ebola patients back in the country to receive treatment. If you haven’t travelled to any countries in the western Africa region recently, the chances of coming in contact with Ebola are negligible.
Facilities treating Ebola in developed nations are plenty capable of keeping it contained, don’t worry.
The Ebola virus is as contagious as HIV and Malaria, diseases which have been an epidemic for decades now. More than 1.2 million people die from AIDS in Africa annually. Respiratory infections and diarrhea, among many other conditions, currently cause far more deaths in Africa than Ebola. The revamping of world health systems is crucial to combatting both issues.
The focus must be information and aid to the areas hardest hit, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. There is a major socio-economic divide in the health care provided to higher income countries and lower income countries. This epidemic is an opportunity to change that.
Real solutions and real change don’t come from panic in emergencies that we soon forget about, whether it be weeks, months, or years later. It requires focused, intentional attention and work over time to create a significant difference.
-Adrienne Hubbard, ThatOpinion, 10/08/14
I bet that if we put out an Ebola virus vaccine tomorrow, half of this country would take it, even though it hasn’t killed anyone who hasn’t traveled to the affected countries. Yet you can’t get parents to give their children an HPV vaccine to prevent a virus that kills 4,000 U.S. citizens a year.
Now, health care officials are starting to talk about a worst-case scenario for Ebola. The World Health Organization projects that 20,000 people will be infected in November. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, projects up to 1.4 million people could be infected by January, assuming that Ebola cases continue to increase exponentially (as they have) and are currently underreported.
20,000 People Infected in November, 1.4 Million By January Assuming Current Exponential Rate
Right now, there’s some reason for hope. Most of the projections about cases escalating to the hundreds of thousands or millions are based on all the interventions we have put in place failing. As the CDC’s director Tom Freiden said, this is a “fluid and dynamic situation. What the modelling shows us is even in dire scenarios, if we move fast enough we can turn it around.” Hopefully, the unprecedented response by the global community — the UN resolution, the personnel the US, Cuba, England and other countries are sending over — will get there fast enough to make a difference. As Frieden said, “The surge now can break the back of the epidemic. But delay is extremely costly in terms of lives and effort.”
It appears Senegal and Nigeria battled back the virus through contact tracing and isolating cases. Though they only had a few cases and deaths each — tiny outbreaks compared to the scale in the other affected countries — they show that with the world on alert, when the disease turns up elsewhere, health officials can still mount successful responses. The worst-case scenario is, in other words, avoidable.
The U.S. military has arrived in Liberia to help manage the Ebola pandemic in West Africa. This effort is unfortunately too little and too late
and will not reverse the original governance errors of isolating rural villages, alienating hospital workers, abandoning the sick, quarantining slums and understating the scale of infections. In fact, it is quite unclear whether the World Health Organization’s worst-case projection of 1.4 million cases of Ebola by January 2015 can be prevented.
While the tragedy in Dallas of a single Liberian traveler falling ill from Ebola after days of exposing others serves to alarm the American public of the threat, the incident has done little so far to hasten an adequate global response.
To this day, the threat continues to grow not only because Ebola is striking at the large impoverished urban populations of Conakry, Guinea; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and Monrovia, Liberia, but also because the disease continues to pick off the critical health workers who are necessary to combat the virus’ spread.
In the latest setback, Liberia’s chief medical officer, Bernice Dahn, has decided to quarantine herself after her assistant died of Ebola. Dahn says she is showing no Ebola symptoms of fever and weakness, but she will know for sure only after the virus’ incubation period of 21 days has passed.
Meanwhile, international assistance for the overwhelmed and now dysfunctional governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is arriving in a tardy, slight, hesitant fashion, despite the clear judgment of medical experts that the epidemic is out of control.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is making their largest humanitarian pledge ever – $50 million to help in the fight against the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
“The U.S. as usual on world problems [is] stepping up both in terms of the science, the understanding, and now the U.S. military’s logistic ability to get supplies in and create field hospitals that are critical,” Bill Gates commented.
Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been asked repeatedly about a travel ban in near-daily briefings with the press over the past week. Each time, he has insisted it won’t work.
Frieden, who is heading the government’s Ebola response, has gone as far as to say that a travel ban could hurt Americans in the long run, by limiting the ability of relief workers and supplies to get into West Africa’s Ebola zone.
“Until the disease is controlled in Africa, we can’t get the disease to zero here,” Frieden said at a Tuesday news conference.
As the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa shows, the importance of reducing inequality could not be more clear. The battle against the virus is a fight on many fronts — human lives and health foremost among them.
The Fight Against Ebola Is Also A Fight Against Inequality
But the fight against Ebola is also a fight against inequality. The knowledge and infrastructure to treat the sick and contain the virus exists in high- and middle-income counties. However, over many years, we have failed to make these things accessible to low-income people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So now thousands of people in these countries are dying because, in the lottery of birth, they were born in the wrong place.
If we do not stop Ebola now, the infection will continue to spread to other countries and even continents, as we have seen with the first Ebola case in the United States this past week. This pandemic shows the deadly cost of unequal access to basic services and the consequences of our failure to fix this problem.
The virus is spreading out of control in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As a consequence, our ability to boost shared prosperity in West Africa — and potentially the entire continent — may be quickly disappearing.
Under the Bank’s best-case scenario, Ebola will cause the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic growth in the affected countries. This is a critically serious matter. These states are emerging from years of civil war and strife, both of which contributed to their low levels of per capita income. Growth is therefore essential to easing the horrible conditions in which millions of their citizens live. If the pandemic continues to jump to other countries, the growth lost could climb into the tens of billions of dollars or higher.