Ebola On The Move

Ebola cases

The disease poses a limited threat to America, but Michael Osterholm anticipates it spreading to other parts of Africa:

We know how the disease will likely spread in the months ahead.

Each year, thousands of young West African men and boys are part of a migratory work population not too dissimilar from U.S. migrant farm workers. Crop-friendly rains wash over West Africa from May to October, forming the growing season. These young men typically help with harvesting in their home villages from August to early October, but afterward head off for temporary jobs in artisanal gold mines in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Ghana; cocoa nut and palm oil plantations in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; palm date harvesting and fishing in Mauritania and Senegal; and illicit charcoal production in Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger.

This migration is about to begin, even for young men whose villages have been recently hit by [Ebola virus disease (EVD)]. These workers find daily laborer jobs at $5 per day, half of which they remit to their families back home. Like their ancestors before them, they use little-known routes and layovers through forests to avoid frontier checkpoints. They usually have ECOWAS ID cards, providing free passage to all the member states of the Economic Community of West Africa States. It takes one to three days to travel from the EVD-affected countries to these work destinations. There is no need for Ebola to hop a ride on an airplane to move across Africa: It can travel by foot.

He wants massive international mobilization against Ebola:

The first critical mistake public-health officials often make amid such outbreaks is failing to consider another black-swan scenario. At the moment, they are focused only on meeting the vaccine need in the three affected countries. If this virus makes it to the slums of other cities, the epidemic to date will just be an opening chapter. Africa contains more than a billion people, and is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. If world leaders don’t make it a priority now to secure up to 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine, we may live to regret our inaction. It’s that serious.

Securing 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine is going to require a partnership between government and vaccine manufacturers that puts it on the same footing as our response to an emerging global influenza pandemic. This will require mobilizing people and resources on a massive scale—it has to be the international community’s top priority.

Follow all our Ebola coverage here.

(Map from Julia Belluz)