Bioethics Blogs

Ebola: The Tolling Bell

As of September 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, so far, over 7100 people have been infected with and over 3300 have died from the Ebola virus. These estimates of what has happened are almost certainly far too low; the estimates of what will happen are terrifyingly high. The current Ebola epidemic may well become the worst human disaster in this century. And we are not doing enough about it.

What happened?

Researchers will be trying to answer that question for years. This is the 24th known outbreak of Ebola virus disease since it was first recognized in 1976.[1] All of the other outbreaks burned themselves out quickly, after between one and 425 people had been infected. Over nearly 40 years, fewer than 2500 people are known to have become infected and fewer than 1500 to have died. The outbreaks were all in Central Africa; they killed people in scattered villages, with few Western connections and fewer Western media on site.

However, the current outbreak started in West Africa, not Central Africa. I suspect this change in location will prove to be the key change, not so much in how it has affected human responses but how it has affected human susceptibility. Yes, the health infrastructures in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were very poor (and are now far worse), but they were no worse than those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, or Uganda, the sites of most of the earlier outbreaks. But the lands where this outbreak start are more densely populated and better connected.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.