August 2014 – AFRICA – At an emergency hearing in Washington on Thursday afternoon, major players in the fight against Ebola in West Africa addressed the outbreak that has stolen the lives of more than 900. Leaders from health agencies and humanitarian efforts addressed the need for increased support, as one called the current state of affairs in West Africa “apocalyptic.” Rep. Christopher Smith, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, opened the hearing by urging the speakers to clear the air on a “grave issue” that has “gripped” the mass media for weeks. “We hope to gain a realistic understanding of what we’re up against while avoiding sensationalism,” he told the floor. Here are the takeaways: It’s already an unprecedented outbreak, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says, and the number of infected and killed by Ebola will likely soon outnumber all other Ebola outbreaks in the past 32 years combined. According to the CDC, there have already been more than 1,700 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola in West Africa, and more than 900 deaths—numbers that Frieden later called “too foggy” to be definitive. Ken Isaacs, the vice president of Program and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse, painted an even bleaker picture. According to the World Health Organization, West Africa has counted 1,711 diagnoses and 932 deaths, already, which could represent only a small fraction of the true number.
“We believe that these numbers represent just 25 to 50 percent of what is happening,” said Isaacs. In a six-hour meeting with the president of Liberia last week, Isaacs said workers from Samaritan’s Purse and SIM watched as the “somber” officials explained the gravity of the situation in their countries, where hundreds lie dead in the streets. “It has an atmosphere of apocalypse,” Isaacs said of the Liberia Ministry of Health’s status updates. “Bodies lying in the street…gangs threatening to burn down hospitals. I believe this disease has the potential to be a national security risk for many nations. Our response has been a failure.” Isaacs says that the epidemic is inciting panic worldwide that, in his opinion, may soon be warranted. “We have to fight it now here or we’re going to have to fight it somewhere else.” In the days since the two American workers have returned to America, Samaritan’s Purse has heard widespread concern about their reintegration. “People are afraid to get around them—husbands, wives, no one knows if it’s safe,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to give them a safe place to be, but imagine how difficult it is for American citizens—and all citizens—to suffer from this,” he said. Some from the communities where the two Americans came from reportedly have expressed concern about them infecting other residents. “This is a nasty, bloody disease; I could give you descriptions of people dying that you cannot even believe.”
The U.S. may not be prepared to treat American relief workers should they get infected. According to Isaacs, of the Samaritan’s Purse, the plane that flew Writebol and Brantly to safety in Atlanta is the sole vehicle of that kind in existence. “There is only one airplane in the world with one chamber to carry a Level 4 pathogenic victim. One—and it’s in the U.S,” said Isaacs. “There is no other aircraft in the world.” Isaacs says that unless the Department of Defense is secretly in possession of another aircraft, then the U.S. will not have the power to evacuate more than one American relief worker at a time, should they get infected. “If the U.S. is going to expect CDC people [to be in these nations], there has to be assurance that we can care for them when they are sick.” The disease could spread to other countries. Isaacs, whose warnings to Congress about the urgency for a better response prompted Thursday’s meeting, says he is gravely concerned about the future. After first observing the outbreak in April, he’s watched the disease spread furiously across West Africa with little to no effective international support. “I think we are going to see death tolls in numbers that we can’t imagine,” said Isaacs. “If we do not fight and contain this disease, we will be fighting this and containing this in multiple countries across the world. The cat is, most likely, already out of the bag.” –Daily Beast