How Many New Ebola Cases?


Lena Sun flags a new CDC report suggesting that 1.4 million West Africans could catch the virus by January:

The report released Tuesday is a tool the agency has developed to help with efforts to slow transmission of the epidemic and estimate the potential number of future cases. Researchers say the total number of cases is vastly underreported by a factor of 2.5 in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two of the three hardest-hit countries. Using this correction factor, researchers estimate that approximately 21,000 total cases will have occurred in Liberia and Sierra Leone by Sept. 30. Reported cases in those two countries are doubling approximately every 20 days, researchers said. “Extrapolating trends to January 20, 2015, without additional interventions or changes in community behavior,” such as much-improved safe burial practices, the researchers estimate that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone could be between approximately 550,000 to 1.4 million.

Meanwhile, Siobhán O’Grady points out a distressing pattern in aid distribution:

[A] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report released Monday sheds light on a different kind of neocolonialism taking form in the region’s Ebola crisis: Rather than coordinating an effort to combat the massive outbreak, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are instead sending disproportionate amounts of aid to the territories they once controlled. This lack of coordination among the three largest donors to the fight against Ebola ignores the reality of borders between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where political lines are more a trace of colonialism than an accurate representation of modern-day relationships between the border communities of the three developing nations.

Zoe Chace compares the international community’s response to the Ebola outbreak to its actions following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti:

The response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was massive: Billions of dollars in donations poured in. “It had everything,” says Joel Charny, who works with InterAction, a group that coordinates disaster relief. “It had this element of being an act of God in one of the poorest countries on the planet that’s very close to the United States. … And the global public just mobilized tremendously.” People haven’t responded to the Ebola outbreak in the same way; it just hasn’t led to that kind of philanthropic response. From the point of view of philanthropy, the Ebola outbreak is the opposite of the Haiti earthquake. It’s far from the U.S. It’s hard to understand. The outbreak emerged over a period of months — not in one dramatic moment — and it wasn’t initially clear how bad it was. Donors like being part of a recovery story. In Haiti, buildings and lives were destroyed. The pitch was, let’s help them rebuild. In the case of Ebola, it’s been harder to make a pitch.

Not surprisingly, Tara Smith notes that the NGOs at the forefront are struggling:

Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French name,Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) has led the international battle against Ebola, and where its workers have had success in the past, they have been completely overwhelmed now for months. MSF International President Joanne Liu has made multiple appeals to the United Nations, begging for additional assistance, noting on Sept. 16:

As of today, MSF has sent more than 420 tonnes of supplies to the affected countries. We have 2,000 staff on the ground. We manage more than 530 beds in five different Ebola care centres. Yet we are overwhelmed. We are honestly at a loss as to how a single, private NGO is providing the bulk of isolation units and beds.

The plea has fallen on sympathetic ears, but the response has been slow and insufficient. The United States has answered the call to some extent, promising 3,000 military personnel and up to $750 million in aid. Even this massive amount is less than what the World Health Organization has called for: a minimum of $1 billion, and even that will only keep infections contained to the “tens of thousands.”