Grim forecasts released separately on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say that by the end of January, the Ebola epidemic engulfing Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia will explode to at least 100 times its current size. An estimated 550,000 to 1.4 million people will be infected compared with the 5,347 so far. Scientists now report that 70 percent of infected patients are dying, up from 50 percent in previous reports.
Shockingly, the Obama administration is pouring a staggering $750 million into only one of these three countries, Liberia, over the next six months. Why only Liberia? He’s playing favorites. His buddy Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s president. But scientific evidence shows our tax dollars would save more African lives if the money were spent equipping the nations in Ebola’s future path with laboratory tests, gloves, other equipment and expertise before the disease hits them. And it will hit. Oxford University researchers predict that migrating fruit bats will likely carry the virus to fifteen more African countries.
To contain a fire, don’t aim all the hoses at the row house already half burned. Drench the surrounding houses before they burn. In this case, many scientists say, focus on preventing epidemics in other countries.
The Obama administration and WHO’s executives in Geneva are also adhering to political correctness, ignoring scientists’ warnings that travel from the three besieged countries must be stopped to prevent Ebola from spreading.
On August 31, Northeastern University physicist Alessandro Vespignani published a computerized risk assessment predicting how commercial air traffic will likely spread the disease to unaffected African countries and the United Kingdom, with a lower 2 percent to 15 percent risk of reaching the U.S. Yet WHO Director General Margaret Chan and the CDC’s Director Thomas Frieden object to halting flights, claiming it will cripple the three countries’ economies and prevent aid from reaching them. OK, let flights in but make them fly out empty.
Air France and British Airways canceled flights there in August. No wonder. Vespignani warns that it is impossible to screen out infected passengers. Preposterously the CDC is telling American carriers to equip their flight attendants with goggles, waterproof gowns, and masks in the event a passenger gets sick and to treat all body fluids as “infectious.”
Nigeria’s battle with Ebola shows how deadly one infected traveler can be. On July 20, Patrick Sawyer flew from Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria, after the funeral of his Ebola-stricken sister. Sawyer introduced Ebola into Nigeria before dying, and triggered an outbreak that so far has infected 21, mostly nurses and doctors, killing eight.
But the Nigerian case also proves the disease can be tamed, given warning, infection control expertise, and rigorous enforcement. Nigerian officials tracked and quarantined whoever came in contact with Sawyer. The stakes were high in Lagos, an international city with 22 million residents. If Ebola spread out of control there, says Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations, it would put the world in “uncharted territory,” placing even the United States and Europe at risk.
In Tuesday’s report, WHO scientists call for more “forceful implementation” of infection controls, including stopping travel, dangerous funeral practices, and the eating of bats (which carry the virus). These will take time, but are essential to stop epidemics in more countries. The current outbreak was confined to Guinea until May, when mourners from Sierra Leone and Liberia attended funerals in Guinea and brought the disease home with them.
Obama’s plan provides 1,700 hospital beds to Liberia (enough to handle one day’s new infections by the time they’re built) and trains healthcare workers there. That’s not containment.
But Washington politicians applauded Obama’s expensive and flawed Ebola plan, basking in the show of compassion and bipartisan cooperation. They failed to ask whether the plan will save the most African lives. It won’t. For such a big price tag, let’s get it right. Pouring treasure into Liberia alone, without a shred of evidence it will save thousands of lives in other countries, is a horrible mistake.