1,400,000. One-point-four million.
No matter how you spell it out, the sheer number of people who might have contracted Ebola in west Africa by mid January is staggering. The populations of Little Rock, Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Pine Bluff, and Bentonville combined fall about 600,000 short of that number, to give you some perspective. According to the WHO and the CDC, the outbreaks in Sierra Leone and Liberia could rise to between 500,000 and 1.4 million cases by that time, unless the current prevention and containment efforts are drastically improved. There have already been an estimated 5,800 recorded cases and 2,800 deaths from the disease, horrific data which the UN health agency can;t account for the number of unreported cases. The situation is, in a word, bleak.
But there is hope. Nigeria and Senegal have been declared “stable” areas already. And Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC, says these worst-case scenarios are based on data form earlier in August, and do not take into account President Obama’s and other nations’ recent commitments of new supplies and troops to help contain the outbreak. Furthermore, the expected “surge” in aid can “break the back of tit she epidemic” and is “exactly what’s needed.” Frieden said he is now “confident the most dire predictions will not come to pass.”
So, why the bombastic, gloom-and-doom-the-end-is-nigh opening to this post? Well, there are three reasons. The first is because its how the sources I used for the post got my attention, and I thought it would work on you (it did). The second is that the US’s actions in West Africa up to this point have not reflected on the urgency this report warrants. And the third is that we now hold the lives of up to 1.4 million human beings in our hands.
So far, the US and other nations have been slowly increasing our presence in Ebola-stricken countries, ramping up supplies and personnel to key medical centers. By which I mean we have done just about didly-squat. The local health systems, inadequate by any developed nation’s standards, have been completely overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the disease. The fact that we are now staring a true endemic in the face is evidence of better-supplied, better-prepared nation’s lack of concern for the people trapped behind national quarantine lines. In their separate report, the WHO place the burden of the blame squarely on “international indifference… Perhaps most important[ly], Ebola has reached the point where it could establish itself as an endemic infection because of a highly inadequate and late global response.”
Essentially, we as a global community made sure national borders were as secure as possible, moved our own doctors out, and kept aid to the affected areas to a minimum. I hate to make this comparison, but there was more international cooperation on the 2014 World Cup than there has been on confronting this disease. Particularly damning is the US’s lack of commitment; we can tackle ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but we can’t be bothered combat a far more fatal infection threatening far more lives in Sierra Leone and Liberia. We should never have allowed the situation to come to this point.
But, finally, we have owned up to reality and promised to stop the disease sooner rather than later. What matters now is that we keep the people we almost abandoned in mind from here on out. Everyone who is currently ill, their terrified families, those who have been crowded into a Monrovia slum, the doctors working in torn containment suits with nonexistent supplies, the grave-diggers carving up to 16 new plots out of the bush every day, and the inhabitants of the slums downstream of those graveyards. These are not numbers anymore; they are not percentages. We cannot let human beings living in a man-exacerbated crisis become political footballs. They cannot be, if we are to provide the quality aid that these people deserve from us. Our indifference helped to create this problem And we have 1,400,000 reasons to do everything we can to fix it.