US must lead in Ebola fight, experts say


Epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo needs urgent international attention. Samantha Page reports.


Health workers tending to a patient, recently cleared of Ebola, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Health workers tending to a patient, recently cleared of Ebola, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

Public health experts are urging the United States to mobilise resources against an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 240 people have already died.

The response is complicated and made more urgent by the fact that the DRC is undergoing violent political instability, armed conflict, and widespread displacement, say the three experts, writing in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

“The Ebola epidemic in the DRC has reached a dangerous moment, requiring new political and security strategies,” say Lawrence Gostin and Matthew Kavanagh, both from Georgetown University in Washington DC, and Elizabeth Cameron, from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit located in the same city.

“Many lives are at risk if the epidemic is not rapidly contained.”

The number of cases of Ebola in the DRC doubled in October, and the authors note that many cases were of “unknown origin”, indicating that efforts to contain the spread of the virus are insufficient at best and failing at worse.

Due to the country’s geopolitical instability, many nations, including the United States, are not permitting aid workers into the epicentre of the outbreak.

But that is a shortsighted decision, the experts say: “The cost of addressing this epidemic now is far less than if mass mobilisation were required due to international spread of the virus.”

In 2014, an Ebola outbreak that started in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, reaching the capitals of all three nations. Two and a half years later, after an international effort to contain the outbreak, 11,325 people had been killed by the disease, which starts with a fever and is marked by vomiting, diarrhoea, and haemorrhaging.

At the time, there were significant fears that the outbreak would spread even farther.

The current epidemic in DRC is “likely to continue for many months”, the DC-based experts write. They suggest the US government mobilise experts, funding, and other resources to curb this outbreak and also to design frameworks and plans to address future outbreaks, particularly in conflict zones.

“It is critical to recognise that future health crises will occur in fragile, insecure settings. To prepare, the international community needs long-term planning and enhanced capacities to improve the safety and effectiveness of epidemic response operations,” they write.

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  1. https://www.economist.com/briefing/2018/02/15/congos-war-was-bloody-it-may-be-about-to-start-again
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2717586
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/history/2014-2016-outbreak/index.html
  4. https://slate.com/technology/2015/10/ebola-panic-anniversary-predictions-of-a-u-s-epidemic-didnt-come-true.html
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