The World Health Organization recently released its long-awaited final report on the organization’s response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The report opens by explaining that, however tragic the epidemic was, it also provides us with a chance to learn. “The sole consolation of the Ebola disaster is that it has galvanised the world into analyzing the failures and ensuring that it is better prepared for the next global health threat,” it states. “Crisis is hardship but also opportunity.”
The release of the report reminds us that alongside the epidemiological end of an epidemic, there is also an administrative end. In the case of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, we can mark the date of the latter much more sharply than the former. On March 29th of this year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, officially terminated the epidemic’s status as a “public health emergency of international concern.” This was a classificatory shift meant to signify a change in how the disease is to be governed. Even as cases of Ebola in West Africa continued to appear, the end of the emergency signaled a return to normalcy, the entry into a period of reflection on the meaning of the event—the “epilogue” of the epidemic narrative (Rosenberg 1989), in which retrospective moral judgment can be made: who is to blame? What should we have done differently?
A surprisingly simple answer to this question was offered last year by the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, who said: “If you want to blame somebody for this epidemic,” he said, “blame me.
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