Via The Washington Post, an opinion piece by Partners in Health co-founders Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank and Paul Farmer of Harvard: What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa . Excerpt:
The take-no-action argument has been used over the years as an excuse not to mount an effort to control drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria and many other diseases that afflict primarily the poor.
But the reality is this: The Ebola crisis today is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic health care. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone do not have the staff, stuff and systems required to halt the outbreak on their own. According to its ministry of health, before the outbreak Liberia had just 50 doctors working in public health facilities serving a population of 4.3 million.
To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.
Many are dying needlessly. Historically, in the absence of effective care, common acute infections have been characterized by high mortality rates. What’s happening with Ebola in Africa has been no different.
A 1967 outbreak in Germany and Yugoslavia of Marburg hemorrhagic fever — a disease similar to Ebola — had a 23 percent fatality rate. Compare that with an 86 percent rate for cases across sub-Saharan Africa in the years since. The difference is that Germany and Yugoslavia had functioning health systems and the resources to treat patients effectively. The West African countries coping with Ebola today have neither.
With a strong public health response led by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the United States, Britain, France and other wealthy nations, the virus could be contained and the fatality rate — which, based on the most conservative estimates, exceeds 50 percent in the present outbreak — would drop dramatically, perhaps to below 20 percent.
We are at a dangerous moment in these three West African countries, all fragile states that have had strong economic growth in recent years after decades of wars and poor governance. It would be scandalous to let this crisis escalate further when we have the knowledge, tools and resources to stop it. Tens of thousands of lives, the future of the region and hard-won economic and health gains for millions hang in the balance.