Wake up on Ebola

From an editorial in Wednesday’s Washington Post:

The ebola epidemic now sweeping West Africa is a public health catastrophe, yet the world’s response has been to treat it like a faraway monsoon or volcano, perhaps frightening but not something that much can be done about. This complacency is wrong-headed and dangerous. The catastrophe is worsening.

On Monday, the World Health Organization published a grim and shocking assessment of the outbreak in Liberia, the hardest-hit of the four countries where the virus has exploded.This is very bad news. With no vaccine or antiviral available, the means to control Ebola, known from past outbreaks, is to cordon off the infected and prevent transmission of bodily fluids by which the disease spreads. This is doable in small villages and isolated locations. But this outbreak has detonated in big cities, and because of inaction and fumbling by governments, as well as fear, suspicion and panic among residents, control efforts are a shambles.

President Barack Obama has pledged support and asked Congress for more money; on Monday the Defense Department announced it would deploy a 25-bed field hospital to Liberia at a cost of $22 million. The British are sending a 62-bed facility. Every little bit helps, but these responses are meager in face of the need. The current effort needs to be scaled up three- or four-fold.

Reports from the epicenter of the disaster are ominous. This is a dire emergency. The paltry response is unacceptable.