Via The New York Times: Like AIDS Before It, Ebola Isn’t Explained Clearly by Officials. The conclusion of a good article:
By its very nature, public health involves politics. As politicians, health officials have traditionally tended to play down, or even ignore, risks to calm anxiety and panic.
But the official foot-dragging that first greeted the AIDS epidemic wound up pitting activists against government agencies and officials. Trust was lost, and “silence equals death” became a rallying cry.
Federal officials have not been silent about Ebola, but sometimes, they have been too emphatic and absolute in their choice of words. Despite lack of prior experience, the experts predicted that any American hospital could safely handle Ebola patients with little risk to noninfected individuals. That assurance came back to haunt them in Texas.
To their credit, the officials quickly corrected themselves. But by then, the damage was done.
Fear of the unknown plays a great role in fanning anxiety during outbreaks of deadly diseases. H.I.V. was truly a mystery at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. At first, scientists debated whether the cause was an infectious agent (even an old one in disguise) or a drug, or combinations of them.
Ebola was identified in Central Africa in 1976 but was unknown in West Africa when cases began to occur in Guinea earlier this year. It is the largest epidemic of the disease. As of Friday, Ebola has infected 13,268 people, of whom 4,960 have died, the World Health Organization says.
As in the early years of AIDS, standard support therapy is the only proven therapy. If drugs are found to treat Ebola, health workers will need ways to get them to Africa’s poor. If nothing else, the AIDS epidemic may have prepared us for that.
Both viruses continue to raise major challenges. A decrepit infrastructure for delivery of health care and other services is the result of years of political unrest in West Africa. Hundreds more doctors and nurses are needed from elsewhere to care for the ailing.
The fact is that Ebola, like AIDS, will leave behind a tragic legacy: hundreds of thousands of orphans.