Sunday, October 19, 2014


Ebola Out of Control

A window into Liberia in the throes of the plague: Westerners boogie the night away in dance halls, sleep with local prostitutes even as authorities downplay the size of the epidemic. Families hide the truth about what’s wrong with their loved ones, fearing consequences of letting authorities and neighbors know the truth. That’s according to this terrifying account provided by the Guardian:

[Sorious] Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

“People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.” […]

Samura believes sexual promiscuity among westerners could play a role in the virus’s spread abroad. Almost immediately after the outbreak was reported in March, Liberia’s health minister warned people to stop having sex because the virus was spread via bodily fluids as well as kissing.“I saw westerners in nightclubs, on beaches, guys picking up prostitutes,” he said. “Westerners who ought to know better are going to nightclubs and partying and dancing. It beggars belief. It’s scary.”
If true, Ebola may not come to the West via Liberian or other West African citizens, but from returning aid workers, tourists, business people and others.

One possibility: Many businessmen in West Africa are of Lebanese and Syrian extraction. Put the Ebola virus into a combat zone where medical services are already overwhelmed, and the consequences in refugee camps and cities under siege don’t bear thinking about.

It’s much too soon to tell what the course of the Ebola epidemic will be, but so far it has to be said that Ebola has been easier to catch and harder to contain than officials everywhere have anticipated.

Appearing in West Africa, a part of the world where governments are weak, public health services poor, and local customs and beliefs conducive to its spread deeply entrenched, Ebola could not have found a more promising venue.

The initial U.S. response to the presence of one case has been shambolic; clearly the “long peace” in which killer epidemics were rare has left our health system unprepared for the kind of threat Ebola represents.

We have to hope now that public health authorities here, in Europe and in other countries will demonstrate the focused dedication needed for an extended period in which the threat of a global outbreak of Ebola is real. But even under the best case scenarios, it will take months before the disease is under control and during all that time the epidemic will be knocking on our door, and on the doors of many other countries around the world.

There is some hope that Ebola will have a harder time spreading outside of West Africa if only because public health systems are better elsewhere and burial customs are different. We are not yet facing a killer pandemic worldwide.