J. Stephen Morrison
As September opened, a striking consensus had emerged among global health leaders that the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea has transmuted into a colossus that continues to gather force: It is "spiraling out of control" (Dr. Thomas Frieden, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC); “We understand the outbreak is moving beyond our grasp” (Dr. David Nabarro, Senior UN System Coordinator for Ebola Disease ); Ebola is “a global threat” that “ will get worse before it gets better, and it requires a well-coordinated big surge of outbreak response” (World Health Organization Director General Dr. Margaret Chan); “Six months into the worst epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Leaders are failing to come to grips with the transnational threat” (Dr. Joanne Liu, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) International President).
Ebola in West Africa has overwhelmed the containment and treatment measures attempted thus far, and is seriously threatening nearby and neighboring states. (A separate Ebola outbreak is underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.) Research and development of treatments and vaccines has accelerated, but the speed with which the Ebola virus is mutating has complicated the quest to identify new tools quickly. No tested or approved therapies exist. Vaccine testing has begun, but it is uncertain when or if a viable vaccine will become available. In the future, any viable vaccine will become effective only if people are immunized on a mass scale.
Up until now, high-level global statesmanship has been absent, and the modest, late steps taken to control the outbreak have failed to stop its alarming, exponential growth. As Ebola in West Africa charges ahead, it may finally stir world leaders to initiate the large-scale international security actions and other measures – quick disbursement of funds, mobilization of thousands of health workers, arrival of medical products and protective equipment – essential to arrest this catastrophe. If not, we should prepare for the worst: a runaway Ebola epidemic of an ever more massive scale in Africa.
As of August 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 3,069 cases with 1,552 deaths, over 40% emerging in the previous three weeks. By middle of this week, those numbers climbed to over 3,500 and 1,900, respectively. Over 240 health workers have become sick with Ebola, half of whom have died. This stark, upward, exponential trajectory is set to continue. WHO now freely admits that official numbers “vastly underestimate” reality and that the actual figures may be two to four times these levels. Total cases may soon reach 20,000, but there is no reason to believe it will stop at that level. Accordingly, in its new action plan, WHO called initially for international commitments of $489 million, almost five times the $100 million it proposed in late July. By this week, Dr. Nabarro claimed the requirements have reached $600 million but “could be a lot more.”
A tragedy for West Africa, the Ebola crisis has been a humiliating
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