Opinion Editorial
Editorial

How to deal with the Ebola outbreak

Ebola poses a risk, but it's West Africa, not the United States, that is ground zero

It was a commendable decision — and more unnerving than risky — for Emory University to accept into its hospital two Americans who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while doing humanitarian work in Africa. The arrival of the first patient on Saturday is considered to be the first instance of the virus entering the U.S.— albeit in the care of infectious disease specialists working in an isolation unit built in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials of the CDC say there is little safety threat and no cause for panic among Americans.

The far greater risk, on both public safety and humanitarian levels, would be to allow the current Ebola outbreak, the largest ever, to continue to rage out of control in West Africa until it spreads elsewhere. That's what could create a global pandemic. Ebola is not the most infectious serious disease — SARS is more so — but it is the deadliest. Depending on the strain of the virus, the mortality rate can be as high as 90%. The World Health Organzation said Monday that the disease has killed 887 people since March, all but one in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. One person died in Nigeria and several more people are reportedly sick.

The U.S. and other nations must make it a priority not just to provide medical aid to stricken regions but also to improve the health conditions under which Africans live.

Upgrading Africa's basic health infrastructure is a long, slow, costly process, one the West has not expressed great interest in undertaking over the years. Perhaps this epidemic will help remind us why it is so important. Meanwhile, in the last few days, the World Health Organization has promised to fly hundreds more medical personnel into West Africa. On Sunday, the U.S. said it would send 50 public health officials.

It's not just a matter of treating the illness — the earlier treatment is started the better, but there is no cure or vaccine. There are other safety precautions that should be observed. West Africans must be persuaded to stop the burial custom that involves washing bodies. The World Health Organization has for months enlisted local healers, tribal leaders and anthropologists to help encourage people who may be ill to go to hospitals. But that effort must be intensified as this epidemic continues. It's a matter of convincing desperately scared people — some ill, some not ill yet — that health workers who show up at their doors and sometimes take away loved ones are not angels of death but, in fact, the only chance they have of staying alive.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Sorting out U.S. visas for crime victims
    Sorting out U.S. visas for crime victims

    As a society, we want people to report crimes and help bring criminals to justice. Without the cooperation of victims, the criminal justice system doesn't work very well. One particular problem for police and prosecutors is that people living in the country illegally are often hesitant to...

  • A problem with how we treat cancer -- and how to fix it
    A problem with how we treat cancer -- and how to fix it

    I was diagnosed with cancer after giving birth to my third child. The tumor had grown especially large thanks to my body’s hormones that had been growing my baby. The medical community helped my disease, but could not help my despair.

  • Stubborn like a musk ox -- why Homo sapiens can't think straight about nuclear weapons
    Stubborn like a musk ox -- why Homo sapiens can't think straight about nuclear weapons

    Most people can be forgiven for ignoring the threat posed by nuclear weapons. It might seem surprising, but we have been preprogrammed by our own evolutionary history to engage in such ignorance. The nuclear age is just a tiny blip tacked on to our very recent phylogenetic past, so when it...

  • Sainthood and Serra: It's an insult to Native Americans
    Sainthood and Serra: It's an insult to Native Americans

    Pope Francis' decision to declare Father Junipero Serra a saint in recognition of his work as “the evangelizer of the West in the United States” represents a profound insult to Native Americans and an injustice to history.

  • Sainthood and Serra: His virtues outdistance his sins
    Sainthood and Serra: His virtues outdistance his sins

    The outcries began as soon as Pope Francis announced that, after 80 years of formal consideration, Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, was to be made a saint. The outrage isn't new. It hews back to the accusation that Serra actively participated in “genocide,”...

  • Republicans need their own rhetoric of reliance
    Republicans need their own rhetoric of reliance

    New leader of the state Senate Kevin de León made waves last fall for both the lavish “inaugural” bash he threw himself and for the speech he gave there. “Isn't it time we shatter the great American myth about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps?” the Democrat...

Comments
Loading