September 2014 – AFRICA – Sometimes the artifice of writing — metaphors, historical comparisons, the just-so quote — fails. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa demands directness: We are about to witness a human catastrophe that could destroy large portions of a continent and pose a global threat. And the response of the world, including the United States, is feeble, irresponsible and disrespectful of nature’s lethal perils. American health officials and nonprofit groups are bringing back the same report from the region. In Liberia, the rate of new infections has probably already moved from a linear to an exponential curve. The same may be true within the next week or so for Sierra Leone and Guinea. The normal countermeasures for an infectious disease — isolation, case investigation, contact tracing — are increasingly irrelevant given the rate of increase. Local health care infrastructure, which barely existed in the first place, is overwhelmed. People have lost faith in the large clinics, where 50 percent to 60 percent of patients who enter do not leave alive. And those in need of emergency care for other conditions — such as heart attacks or complicated births — are often frightened of clinics and hospitals, and are dying without treatment.
The international responseis inadequate and disorganized. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations provide “road maps.” But, according to one infectious disease expert, “there is no one to implement command, control and communications. No one.” Multiple, uncoordinated organizations are attempting to confront a disease that is out of control. “They are quibbling over 25 to 30 bed units,” the expert vents. Meanwhile, WHO has revised its prediction of new Ebola infections upward to 20,000 by year-end. Other models indicate more like 100,000. Once the growth of an outbreak becomes exponential, the tools normally at the disposal of health officials have limited value. It may require military airlifts just to deliver sufficient rubber gloves, aprons, soap and buckets to highly affected areas. Doctors Without Borders is calling for the deployment of civilian and military medical teams to provide triage centers, field hospitals with isolation wards, mobile diagnostic labs and systems for the management of corpses. But who will direct and implement such an effort? WHO is not an emergency response organization; it is known mainly for bureaucracy and infighting. The United Nations has no epidemic response force comparable to its peacekeeping operations (though perhaps it should). It is hard to imagine a coordinated effort on a sufficient scale that is not organized by America.
At the current rate of new infections, affected countries are likely to see civil disorder, economic paralysis and corpses in the streets. The most immediate threat is the rapid spread of the disease in Nigeria. A major outbreak in a sprawling city such as Lagos would be unprecedented, unpredictable and horrific. And as a virus multiplies it also mutates. So far, scientists have not seen any changes in the Ebola virus that are relevant to its biological function. But with more replications, over more months, the risk increases. Scientists quietly fear genetic mutations that would make the virus harder to detect, more resistant to treatment, or (God forbid) easier to transmit. This is not likely, but it is possible. Health officials are near wits’ end. “I don’t see any pathway that is easy to implement,” one told me. Easy or hard, it is time for America to blaze a path out of this valley of death. -DN
Grim Ebola prediction: outbreak is ‘unstoppable’ for now, says U.S. virologist
September 2014– AFRICA - A doctor who just returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa predicts the current Ebola outbreak will go on for more than a year, and will continue to spread unless a vaccine or other drugs that prevent or treat the disease are developed. Dr. Daniel Lucey, an expert on viral outbreaks and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, recently spent three weeks in Sierra Leone, one of the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. While there, Lucey evaluated and treated Ebola patients, and trained other doctors and nurses on how to use protective equipment. The current Ebola outbreak, which is mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, has so far killed at least 1,552 of the more than 3,000 people infected, making it the largest and deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. It is also the first outbreak to spread from rural areas to cities. Strategies that have worked in the past to stop Ebola outbreaks in rural areas may not, by themselves, be enough to halt this outbreak, Lucey said. “I don’t believe that our traditional methods of being able to control and stop outbreaks in rural areas … is going to be effective in most of the cities,” Lucey said yesterday (Sept. 3) in a discussion held at Georgetown University Law Center that was streamed online.