Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Ebola – a Pandemic?”
September 19, 2014
In the spring of 1918, the influenza that would become pandemic was first detected. It was initially known as “three-day-fever.” Its effects were such that it caused few deaths. Nobody paid it much heed. That fall, however, it reappeared in a more deadly form, and began to rapidly spread. Because of the War and the subsequent troop demobilization in late 1918 and 1919, a concentration of soldiers in camps, and in troop ships and trains returning to their homes abetted the disease’s migration around the world. By the end of 1919, somewhere between 20 million and 50 million people were dead of influenza, more than had been killed in four years of fighting. It has been estimated that over 20% of the
population (106 million in 1920) had contracted the flu, with 675,000 dying.
While those numbers suggest the death rate was only 3.5%, the 675,000 dead were
almost six times the number of Americans killed in the War. U.S.
The outbreak of the Ebola virus was first seen in
in December 2013. It has
since spread to at least four other West African countries: Guinea Liberia, Sierra
Nigeria, and recently Ebola
been confirmed in the . The three hardest hit
countries are among the smallest. Democratic
Republic of the Congo Guinea,
Liberia and Sierra Leone have a combined population of 22
million, But Nigeria has a population of 173 million and 68 million people live
in the . Significantly, the latter two
countries are not contiguous to the others. Democratic Republic
of the Congo
A data sheet from the Center for Disease Control in
provides some key facts: Atlanta
* Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
* EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
* The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
* Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
* Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Once contracted, Ebola is far more deadly than the influenza. Thus far this year, 49% of those infected have died. Costs are rising and it is gaining momentum. An article in Wednesday’s Financial Times quoted Dr. David Nabarro, senior UN coordinator for Ebola. Dr. Nabarro estimated that the cost of addressing the disease jumped tenfold to $1 billion from just a month earlier. Shanelle Hall, director of the supply division of UNICEF, which has sent 550 tons of supplies to
West Africa was quoted: “The pace of the disease
and also its impact have taken our breath away – it’s been that massive.” According
to a report in Wednesday’s New York Times, reported cases are at 4,985,
including 2,461 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that half of
the infections have occurred in the past three weeks, and they expect that
fatalities are likely to continue to double every three weeks. The numbers are
sobering. A doubling every three weeks means that by the end of December,
165,000 people could be infected, and in six months 2.5 million could have the
disease, with over a million dead.
The possibility of the disease coming to the
States may be remote, but its devastation in Africa could have world-wide humanitarian and economic
consequences. The likelihood, of course, is that it will be contained on the
African continent and fear of its spread should not cause panic in the U.S. For
one, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases, has said that it was extremely unlikely that the Ebola
virus would mutate into an airborne pathogen. Given proper, supportive patient
care, healthcare workers and family members should be okay, but patients must
be kept isolated, as the disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids.
The question is: Do conditions in Africa
permit such patient care?
But to scoff at the threat, as did Investor’s Business Daily on Wednesday, is to show unconcern about its potential consequences. In
Liberia’s capital city of , according to the report in the
Times, bodies are often left in homes or neighborhoods for up to three days
before burial teams can take them away. At this point there is no vaccine,
though one is being tested in the Monrovia by the National Institute of
Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on a
similar experimental vaccine being tested in the U.S. U.K.
It was good to see the President travel to the CDC in
on Tuesday where he spoke with some
urgency. He called the crisis a “top national security priority.” But we are
late in treating this as the emergency it is, and it is not getting the press
coverage it deserves, perhaps because the media does not want to be seen as
responsible for inciting a panic. As an indication as to how long it has taken
the world to respond, until a few weeks ago the WHO was more concerned with the
proliferation of electronic cigarettes than with controlling the spread of
Nevertheless, the situation is now being taken seriously in
and elsewhere. Why else would the
State Department have ordered 160,000 Hazmat suits? Mr. Obama will ask Congress
for $88 million to conduct a “major Ebola offensive” in Washington Africa.
Additionally, he will send 3,000 American troops to help set up 17 treatment
centers with 100 beds each, which will take about three weeks to accomplish. It
will not be enough. Liberian officials claim they will need 1,000 beds next
While there are those like
Illinois’ Senator Dick
Durbin who would politicize this tragedy – using twisted logic, he recently argued
that a comprehensive immigration amnesty bill would have helped America contain the Ebola epidemic in Africa – ’s
response shows our country at its best. The America is condemned for
involving itself in others’ affairs. We are criticized by many, at home and
abroad, for attempting to impose our values on other cultures. Yet, it is
humanitarian acts such as these that manifest the magnanimity of our values –
that make United States
the exceptional nation she is. Would America have done the same? Would China Russia, Brazil,
or even Europe? Once our influence and
standing are diminished (as seems to be the course we are on), who will replace
us? We are the indispensable nation. That’s not pride; that’s reality.
The word pandemic stems from the Greek pandēmos, meaning all the people. In reference to a disease it means that it is widespread throughout a country, region, continent or the world, affecting a large percentage of the population. Given current statistics, Ebola is not pandemic, but it is likely to become one.
The Opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent those of the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc., or of any of its partners or employees.