Ebola Pandemic: This Time is Different

Ebola Outbreak Map - BBC

This blog post was written and research by World Affairs Council Intern, Erin Elliott.

In mid-September President Obama announced the commitment of 3,000 U.S. troops to aid in international relief efforts. In the aftermath of the first direct Ebola case inside the U.S., the President has raised that number to 4,000. While Texas officials were careful to avoid panic and many insist that the U.S. would be able to contain the virus, the current Ebola outbreak remains the worst seen since its discovery in 1976.  At the current rate, the CDC estimates that cases could rise to 1.4 million within four months’ time.

The fatality statistics of Ebola since 1976 are one way in which this is illustrated:

  • 1976: 318 cases, 280 deaths
  • 1995: 315 cases, 250 deaths
  • 1996: 99 cases, 66 deaths
  • October 2001-December 2003: 300 cases, 253 deaths
  • March 2014-October 2, 2014: 3,974 cases, 2007 deaths

Underlying each new development in the pandemic is the question: what factors are exacerbating factors of this outbreak? The 2014 outbreak has been called “the perfect storm” and it seems like an accurate assessment. Countries of West Africa all have similar hallmarks that exacerbated the pandemic: they are all in various stages of recovery from civil wars, weak governance, poor infrastructure, and debilitated healthcare systems. Aside from limited the administrative capacity of the affected countries, globalization is most to blame for the rapid rates of infection. The outbreak began between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea in a highly populated area. Since it is now a lot easier to travel from one place to another—even from one continent to another—it’s no surprise that Ebola has infected and killed so many. This, combined with governance and infrastructural handicaps are what make this outbreak different from past outbreaks.

Global health authorities have been criticized for being unprepared in their response and crisis management. Many are calling for quarantines, closed borders and travel bans until the outbreak is quelled. However, there are serious human rights concerns whenever the freedom of movement is restricted.

In addition to the health crisis, the increased magnitude of Ebola is now creating other problems:

The severity of Ebola is now unquestionable and it is clear that the disease poses an international threat. The United Nations, along with other international and humanitarian organizations, has formed the Global Ebola Response Coalition in order to provide care and services to those countries that are suffering the most and to stop the outbreak and prevent future outbreaks. There is no cure for Ebola, but several vaccines and treatments being developed by pharmaceutical companies worldwide which will be tested and used on Ebola patients in West Africa by November. This includes the unconventional plasma therapy for Ebola patients using the blood of other Ebola survivors.

While the threat remains high, the international community will no doubt be watching intently in the hopes that it can be stopped and a cure or treatment can be developed before more fatalities accumulate.