With over 1,550 deaths and 3,050 people already infected with the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea among other West African countries, health authorities are beginning to analyze why the epidemic has been allowed to go so unchecked with heavy casualties. And to underscore how far the Ebola virus could go, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has projected that fatality rates could go up to 1 million if the disease remains unchecked.
According to Peter Piot, a director at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medical, “Ebola has reached the point where it could establish itself as an endemic infection because of a highly inadequate and late global response. … It was not until five months and 1,000 deaths later that a public health emergency was declared, and it was nearly another two months before a humanitarian response began to be put in place.” And this underscores the fact that international authorizes have responded too slow to the epidemic.
Also, Patricia Omidian, a consultant with the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that government authorities have displayed a lack of cultural sensitivity to the Ebola threat and this has allowed it to get out of control. Omidian, who worked as a health official in Liberia states that “I think the biggest mistake that occurred very early was that primary health care was ignored and communities were not included in their own health issues. Programs were rolled out and people were told what not to do. No effort was made to ensure engagement and increase trust.”
Furthermore, a former assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and a professor of global health at the Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Jack Chow has decried the inability of organizations like WHO, the UN, and CDC for their incapability to deploy doctors and medical staffs to epidemic areas, and their inabilities to treat patients despite their technologies and research works.
According to Dr. Chow, “The Obama mission to Liberia, which is relying on the military at the last minute, shows that the US and other industrial countries haven’t built up comparable deployable medical units on the civilian side, and need to do so to prepare against future “flashdemics”—high-velocity, high-lethality outbreaks. In addition to building an international epidemic response force, we need to conceptualize “global health defense” to include bolstering the health systems of the poorest countries.
The lack of approved drugs and cures has also exacerbated the issue, where experimental drugs like ZMapp are insufficient and even highly controlled. And treating the Ebola epidemic as a West African problem even when it could spread to every part of the world within months has made matters worse for places worse hit; and this is why the disease has hit so hard and long.