On September 23, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention delivered a devastating assessment of the trajectory of the Ebola virus now ravaging West Africa. The briefing stated that the total number Ebola cases are doubling every 20 days and up to 1.4 million could be infected by the end of January. Already, Ebola clinics have been filled to maximum capacity with clinics simply not having enough beds for the number of patients who need treatment.
On August 28, the World Health Organization said 20,000 people were at risk of getting the virus. The massive upsurge in the number of expected Ebola victims largely has to do with the fact that the virus has now entered a stage of nonlinear, exponential growth. Complicating matters are widespread conspiracy theories in the region that doctors are actually inflicting patients with the virus. Some even believe that the foreign aid sent to help fight the outbreak is actually an attempt by US pharmaceutical companies to spread the virus. The plight of the Ebola outbreak has reached such heights that the chief medical officer of Liberia has had to enter a 21 day quarantine after one of her office assistants died from the virus.
Ebola is typically contained as a means of controlling the virus, but currently vaccines are being worked on to try and fight the disease. Unfortunately, these vaccines are expected no earlier than the middle of next year under the best circumstances. In the countries affected by the virus, there is a massive shortage of medical officials. In Sierra Leone, there are only 136 doctors to care for a population of over 5.7 million people. There have been nearly 2,000 confirmed cases of the virus there. Meaning, each doctor would have to treat 15 Ebola cases in addition to their regular practice.
So far, 3,000 have died from the recent Ebola outbreak, all in Western Africa. Experts say there is little risk beyond Western Africa due to the fact the virus is fairly hard to contract. But, in Western Africa the death toll there could climb much higher primarily due to the impoverished state of many infected nations. The nations affected have nearly nonexistent education systems and inadequate infrastructure. Complicating measures is the extreme poverty of the region where most people live on less than 1.25 US dollars daily.
In response to the outbreak, President Obama announced that he was sending 3,000 troops to Western Africa to help regional interests combat the disease. For the sake of comparison, Obama has deployed roughly 1,700 troops to Iraq to guard diplomatic facilities and engage in military planning. The troops sent to West Africa will be tasked with building treatment centers, providing medical attention to affected patients and “halting the spread” of the disease. During the announcement the president stated, “The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. But, right now, the world still has an opportunity to save countless lives. Right now, the world has the responsibility to act, to step up and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more.”
Slightly over a week later, Obama addressed the growing Ebola problem in his speech to the U.N General Assembly, stating, “As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists—supported by our military—to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments. But we need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies and move rapidly across borders. It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.”
The state where the majority of the the victims reside and where the United States is sending the most troops is Liberia, a nation where the epidemic has gotten so bad that infected parents have been spotted leaving their children on the streets in the hopes that someone will take care of them and they won’t be exposed to the virus.
Experts familiar with the situation believe the 3,000 troops will not be enough to adequately address the Ebola outbreak, and it remains unclear whether or not America is willing to take any more action unilaterally to deal with the issue. The United States at this point is trying to garner more world support to deal with the problem, from NGOs as well as allied governments. The U.N has announced its own sweeping response to deal with the crisis and has received $600,000 from the US. Additionally, Japan has donated $2 million to combat the disease. The U.N estimates their mission will require an addition $33 million in aid for the Liberian government alone. Under the U.N response plan, the plan would be used to track and treat victims of the virus, would provide food and other necessary materials to patients as well as their families and local communities. Money would help boost sanitation and health in the communities affected by the virus and additional money would go toward both education and community outreach about the Ebola.