Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
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
  • 'Would you attend a gay wedding?' -- a question meant to trip up, not inform
    'Would you attend a gay wedding?' -- a question meant to trip up, not inform

    A few weeks ago, Jorge Ramos of Fusion asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) if he would attend the gay wedding of a loved one. Rubio responded, “If it's somebody in my life that I care for, of course I would.” Rubio went on to say that he doesn't have to agree with someone on every issue in order to...

  • Baltimore and the language of change
    Baltimore and the language of change

    For the last half-century, invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to condemn or explain black urban uprisings has been a mandatory exercise. Recent events in Baltimore are no exception. Critics say that destroying property and attacking police desecrate King's ideals and draw attention away from...

  • SUNY chimp case questions animals' right to freedom
    SUNY chimp case questions animals' right to freedom

    When a court hearing was ordered to determine whether two chimpanzees, named Hercules and Leo, are being “unlawfully detained” by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the primates (and their lawyers) made a bit of history. No, New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe did not...

  • Two bills protecting patients in healthcare networks deserve passage
    Two bills protecting patients in healthcare networks deserve passage

    The heathcare reforms in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act remain a work in progress, with some of the law's mandates causing new problems or exacerbating older flaws. One is inaccurate lists of the healthcare providers in insurers' networks; another is surprise bills by out-of-network...

  • In hiking the minimum wage, don't leave tipped workers behind
    In hiking the minimum wage, don't leave tipped workers behind

    Who is responsible for paying a worker's wage? The business owner or the customer? That question is at the heart of a debate over whether business owners in California should be able to pay their tipped workers a lower minimum wage.

  • Hillary Clinton's conflict-of-interest problems
    Hillary Clinton's conflict-of-interest problems

    The harshest charges against Hillary Rodham Clinton — that she made decisions that favored donors to her family's charitable foundation when she was secretary of State — aren't sticking. Yes, the Obama administration approved a donor's sale of U.S. uranium mines to a Russian firm, but Clinton does...

Comments
Loading