Monday, September 15, 2014

The Archdruid on Ebola and other epidemic news

I gave a partial update to Third American doctor infected and other Ebola news in No Ebola in Windsor in which I followed up on part of a comment I left to Technological Superstitions at The Archdruid Report.  It's time for the rest of my comment, Greer's response, and more of the week's Ebola news.

I begin with the key sentence of Greer's that prompted my comment.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has continued to spread at an exponential rate as hopelessly underfunded attempts to contain it crumple, while the leaders of the world’s industrial nations distract themselves playing geopolitics in blithe disregard of the very real possibility that their inattention may be helping to launch the next great global pandemic.
That gave me my opening.
President Obama actually talked about Ebola on Meet the Press, saying that it could pose a danger to the U.S. and that the country should send troops and resources in.  That might be wiser in the long run than chasing ISIS, AKA The Sith Jihad, around Syria and Iraq, even though that would be a more popular thing to do, as people understand a fight with a human enemy better than an effort to contain The Red Death.  Speaking of which, the same people who observed relationship between food prices and unrest and predicted the onset of the Arab Spring and then the current spate of crises in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere, are calling attention to a model of Ebola spread that could turn into a global pandemic by just adding intercontinental transportation into the mix. That's an issue that was pointed out in "The Hot Zone" 20 years ago.  Welcome to the science-fiction future of two decades ago.
Greer's response was more chilling and alamist than usual, which is saying something.
Pinku-sensei, Obama's fairly good at talking. It's doing anything when he's finished with the speech that's his problem. At this point I think a global pandemic that could leave a quarter or more of the world's population dead in five to ten years is a serious possibility.

Greer wasn't alone in his grim assessment.  Rene concluded his comment by stating "as a retired public health professional, [I] do agree with your assessment about the possibilities for an Ebola outbreak."  On that cheery note, here's the story Reuters ran on Friday about the epidemic, which I included in a comment to Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solar storm and aurora).

As Ebola grows out of control, WHO pleads for more health workers
By Kate Kelland and Tom Miles
LONDON/GENEVA Fri Sep 12, 2014 11:20am EDT
The number of new Ebola cases in West Africa is growing faster than authorities can manage them, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, renewing a call for health workers from around the world to go to the region to help.

As the death toll rose to more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases, WHO director general Margaret Chan told a news conference in Geneva the vast nature of the outbreak -- particularly in the three hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- required a massive emergency response.

Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, said the U.N. children's agency was using innovative ways to tackle the epidemic, including telling people to "use whatever means they have, such as plastic bags, to cover themselves if they have to deal with sick members of their family".
The version of the story at Reuters India includes the following bullet points.
* Cuba to send 165 health workers to help in Sierra Leone

* WHO's Chan calls for more international support (Adds Dutch doctors, Piot comment, UNICEF comment)
Follow over the jump for more on the situation from Reuters and Agence France Press.

Agence France Presse elaborated on the last two points from the Reuters story in Cuba offers to send 165 to Ebola-affected Africa.

The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola fever has now killed more than 2,400 people, according to the UN, as Cuba pledged the largest foreign medical team deployed so far in the west African health crisis.
Right now, the U.S. is being outdone by Cuba.  That might change, as Liberian president appeals to Obama for U.S. help to beat Ebola By Daniel Flynn in DAKAR on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014 8:09am IST.
(Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama for urgent aid in tackling the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, saying that without it her country would lose the fight against the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the epidemic is spreading exponentially in Liberia, where more than half of the deaths have been recorded. It has said that thousands are at risk of contagion in the coming weeks.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has set up several treatment centres in the affected countries but has also repeatedly warned it has reached the limits of its capacity and appealed for foreign governments to intervene.

In a letter dated September 9 seen by Reuters, Johnson Sirleaf appealed to Obama to build and operate at least one Ebola treatment unit in the capital Monrovia, saying that U.S. civilian and military teams had experience in dealing with biological hazards.
It looks like there will be a response, as Reuters reported Obama to detail plans on Ebola offensive on Tuesday: WSJ on Sunday.
(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to detail on Tuesday a plan to boost his country's involvement in mitigating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The plan would involve a greater involvement of the U.S. military in tackling the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the proposal.
The U.S. government has already committed around $100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.

Obama could ask Congress for an additional $88 million to fund his proposal, the WSJ reported. Plan details are expected during Obama's visit Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
It looks like we won't be outdone by the Cubans for long.  Also, Obama might just prove Greer wrong about both his prediction of U.S. inaction and the extent of the pandemic.

The crisis has already been having political effects in the affected countries, as Reuters reported in Liberia president sacks 10 officials told to return to fight Ebola By James Harding Giahyue in MONROVIA on Sunday Sept. 14, 2014 9:17pm IST.
(Reuters) - Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has sacked 10 senior officials because they failed to heed a warning to return from overseas travel to help the government's fight against an Ebola epidemic that has killed at least 1,100 Liberians.

The officials, who include six assistant ministers, two deputy ministers and two commissioners, were dismissed with immediate effect for being "out of the country without an excuse," according to a statement from the president's office.

They were initially told in August to return to Liberia.

"These government officials showed insensitivity to our national tragedy and disregard for authority," said the statement released late on Saturday. It did not make clear what role the government expected the officials to play in the response to the crisis, or why they were out of the country.
Looks like the dismissed officials discovered their health was more important than their jobs.  That's good for them, but not for the country.  AFP pointed this out when it reported this item.
Former Liberian soccer player George Weah, once named FIFA's player of the year and now at the head of the association "Ebola Emergency France", said Monday that the Ebola epidemic "is killing the fabrics of the Liberian society."
Here's the relevant video.

At least he came back home to help.

On the topic of international travel and Ebola, Reuters had this video report: Stringent Ebola checks for 3 million Haj pilgrims.

Saudi authorities introduce an Ebola screening program at airports as the country prepares to receive three million pilgrims for the annual Haj, many of whom will be traveling from Nigeria where there is an Ebola outbreak. Mana Rabiee reports.
The Saudis are taking no chances.  Note that they've closed their borders to pilgrims from the worst affected countries.  AFP passed along an opinion that says this might be futile in a French expert warns against closing borders to stem Ebola.

A French Ebola expert says it is pointless to close borders to contain the spread of the virus.
A delay of a couple of weeks may not seem like much, but it might give time for a response to be mounted.  Besides, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is far enough away that such a closure may be effective.

On the topic of Nigeria, AFP passed along the latest from there early last week in Nigeria confirms 19 cases of Ebola.

Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu confirms there are 19 cases of Ebola in the country, 15 in Lagos and four in Port-Harcourt.
I hope Nigeria keeps the outbreak confined.

Finally, Reuters goes back to the source of the disease and finds bad news: Ebola map shows people in more African regions risk infection from animals By Kate Kelland in LONDON, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 at 7:55pm IST.
Scientists have created a new map of places most at risk of an Ebola outbreak and say regions likely to be home to animals harbouring the virus are more widespread than previously feared, particularly in West Africa.

Understanding better where people come into contact with Ebola-infected animals - for example through hunting or eating bush meat - and how to stop them contracting the deadly disease, is crucial to preventing future outbreaks, the researchers said.

The Ebola virus, which can have a human mortality rate of up to 90 percent, is thought to be carried by bats or other wild animals and believed to cross into humans through contact with blood, meat or other infected fluids.

These jumps by viruses from animals to humans are known as "zoonotic events" and were the cause of major human disease outbreaks such as HIV and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
And so I go full circle, as one of the points of "The Hot Zone" was that tropical zoonotic diseases could become major threats to world health.  As I wrote in a comment to Down the Memory Hole at Kunstler's blog, "This may not be a story that follows from peak oil and financial mismanagement, but it does fit into one about population overshoot and political chaos."