Robert Roos at CIDRAP writes: House witnesses paint grim picture of Ebola epidemic. Excerpt:
A US House committee heard grim testimony today on West Africa's Ebola epidemic, with an official of a leading aid group asserting that inaction by the rest of the world has let the disease get out of control.
"It's clear to say that this disease is uncontained and out of control in West Africa," said Ken Isaacs, vice president of program and government relations for the relief group Samaritan's Purse (SP). "The international response has been a failure, and it's important to understand that."
He said SP's experts believe the official epidemic case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) represent only 25% to 50% of the true numbers. Yesterday the WHO put the Ebola total for Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria at 1,711 cases and 932 deaths.
"The governments simply do not have the capacity to handle the crisis in their countries," Isaacs added. "If a mechanism isn't found to create a paradigm for the international community to get involved, the world will effectively relegate the containment of this disease to three of the poorest nations in world."
Isaacs spoke at a hearing convened by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. The session was streamed over the Web.
The subcommittee also heard from several other witnesses, including Tom Frieden, MD, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who called the epidemic unprecedented in multiple ways but asserted that it can be stopped by using tried-and-true public health interventions.
A daunting challenge
But Isaacs made the challenge sound daunting. His organization employs Keith Brantly, MD, one of two American health workers who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia and were recently flown back to the United States for treatment. He and Nancy Writebol of SIM (Service in Mission), the other patient, have been treated with an experimental drug and are said to be improving.
"There are bodies lying in the street in Liberia," a nation that's still trying to recover from a long civil war that left lingering tensions, Isaacs said. "There are gangs threatening to burn down hospitals."
"It's clear to me that Liberia is in a severe crisis that I believe threatens the stability of the society as it exists today," he told the panel.
SP's office in Liberia remains open, but "we've in fact suspended all other program activity," he said. "We're in the process now of backing up and reloading. We intend to come back."