Ebola Virus Disease has killed around 3,400 people in West Africa, while a second unconnected, and less reported, outbreak has occurred in Equateur Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What will it take for the world to wake up? A massive EVD outbreak in New York? Or South-East Asia?
The selfishness and nonchalance of the human being is so evident in the paltry response to the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Africa. While trillions of dollars are spent every year on weapons systems, the disease has spun out of control in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Republic of Guinea, there have been cases reported in Nigeria and Senegal, and now, the United States of America (a Liberian man) and a nurse in Spain.
Next stop? London, New York? And from there to Bangladesh, Mumbai, Shanghai? This, the worst nightmare scenario for a disease like Ebola, which is spread through close contact with a patient showing symptoms, or else contact with body fluids, for example left on an elevator button or a handrail in a subway station, by shaking hands, by brushing past someone in a crowd, is far from being fantasy or science fiction.
When the first cases of EVD were reported in the Republic of Guinea, in this column I suggested an immediate and total internal and external travel ban for the Republic of Guinea, placing the entire country in quarantine, for three weeks, the time it takes for the latest symptoms to appear (2 to 21 days). The economic impact of the measures would have been limited, the virus would have blown itself out in less than a month, those infected would have had access to treatment (or unfortunately would have died) and the death rate would have been counted in the dozens and not in the thousands.
We saw this before with Swine Flu (A H1N1) when an outbreak in Mexico became a global pandemic, when the World Health Organization once again sat back and informed us as the virus passed through the six phases from one (no animal virus reported to have caused infection in humans) to two (an animal virus has been reported in humans); three (the same has caused disease in clusters of humans), four (the virus has started to affect whole communities with human-to-human transmission reported). Five, now a pandemic, in which two or more countries in the region are affected and six, it has been reported in one other country outside this region.
Sending aid workers to the region is commendable, and here we must remember those who have sacrificed their lives trying to help others, facing a killer disease in deplorable healthcare and security conditions - 211 healthcare workers of the 375 infected with Ebola Virus Disease have died and many charities and NGOs have people working tirelessly in the field, risking their lives to help others in need. In total there have been 7,178 cases and 3,431 deaths - out of the cases and deaths reported, there may be many more.
Yet sending aid workers to help the infected is treating the symptoms, not getting to the root cause or preventing the disease from spreading. Is this too little, too late? When is someone going to realize that we are being tested, and to date we have failed miserably in our response? The movies about pandemic killer diseases running amok on our planet reflect the situation admirably - if a strain of avian flu were to break out with a 90% death rate, I will bet my life savings that the response from the "authorities" would be:
"Currently the Avian Flu Virus (NvAH5N1, New Variant AH5N1), commonly known as Cambodian Forest flu, an unknown strain of the A H5N1 virus with a severe and exponential unknown biological pathogen attached, has reached Phase 3. The Organization does not recommend any travel restrictions (because the airline lobby would complain) and currently we are waiting for the Virus to reach Pandemic Level 5 so that the pharmaceutical lobby can mass-produce the vaccine, which will be available for 100 USD each dose, a potential revenue of 700 billion USD for the company which patented it".
Whoops, those parts of the statement were not supposed to go public...