Via The Washington Post: How Ebola is stealing attention from illnesses that kill more people. Excerpt:
The Ebola virus has killed more than 1,900 people in four West African nations, and it has left the international community scrambling to contain it.
But as deadly diseases go, Ebola isn't nearly as contagious as tuberculosis, which can be spread through the air. And it isn't as deadly as HIV/AIDS.
It's no malaria, which in Liberia killed 1,725 people and sickened more than 1.4 million in 2012. Cholera was responsible for 1,146 deaths in Liberia in 2011.
This year, during the worst Ebola outbreak in history, the virus has killed nearly 900 people in Liberia. That puts it on par with other deadly, yet preventable ailments.
Diarrhea -- a preventable and treatable condition -- kills about 1.5 million children each year -- more than malaria, AIDS and measles combined, according to global health organizations.
The H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed more than 284,000 people in 2009 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet Ebola's deadliness and the danger it poses to civil society in affected countries have made this epidemic a problem of global proportions.
When an outbreak calls for an infusion of international attention and resources, the World Health Organization is responsible for designating it as a global emergency, which it did for this Ebola outbreak on Aug. 8. An outbreak is evaluated based on the severity of at least two of these four criteria: the significance of the public health impact and deadliness of the disease; how expected or unexpected the outbreak was; the risk of international spread; and the risk of international travel or trade restrictions.
"If these criteria are met and the director general perceives it as a public health emergency of international concern, that should trigger a coordinated global response," said John Kraemer, a professor of epidemiology at Georgetown University.
That doesn't happen for diseases such as malaria or AIDS because, despite their annual tolls, they require a constant level of public health diligence and are rarely unexpected.
"For diseases that are endemic, we wouldn't think of declaring a public health emergency," Kraemer said. "An emergency response for malaria wouldn't be helpful in the same way; you won’t see malaria spiraling out of control."
All perfectly valid points. But Ebola provides an opportunity to mitigate the impact of those endemic diseases as well. Better nourishment and more reliable routine healthcare should strengthen population immunity. Sanitation can reduce waterborne diseases. A better-informed population can maintain improved hygiene habits.