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Ebola: Infections in the Millions Forecast; Seen as Possibly Becoming Endemic in Africa

Printable version / Version imprimable

Douglas De Groot

(EIRNS)—The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report, in which it made a forecast, closer to reality than its previous reports. It now forecasts that the number of Ebola cases in West Africa could reach between 550,000 to 1.4 million by January 20, 2015. The high end of the estimate was based on the assumption that the World Health Organization (WHO) count is under-reported by 2.5 times, and other factors. The CDC based its estimate on August figures, before the Obama Administration reversed policy and announced a limited military-style intervention. But top experts in the field have already reported that that intervention was too little, too late. The epidemic began last December, nearly a year ago, and was identified as Ebola in March.

The WHO also published a new assessment on the epidemic on Sept. 22, by its Ebola Response team of 50 scientists, which projected a much worse outlook than earlier assessments. The WHO study reported that "The epidemiologic outlook is bleak," and projected that the epidemic may not be brought under control. It noted that the death rate in the three countries at the center of the epidemic is 70% of those infected. The new estimates of the WHO were published today by The New England Journal of Medicine (NJEM).

The WHO study also indicated the possibility that Ebola becomes "endemic among the human population of West Africa." It concluded that "The risk of continued epidemic expansion and the prospect of endemic EVD [Ebola Virus Disease] in West Africa call for the most forceful implementation of present control measures and for the rapid development and deployment of new drugs and vaccines."

The NJEM also published an editorial which said that the epidemic was "avoidable," said that the reason it had gone out of control was "a highly inadequate and late global response." The editorial also stated that "without a massive increase in the response, way beyond what is being planned," the epidemic could not be brought under control, adding that it has gotten so far out of control that the usual containment techniques involving isolating those infected would probably no longer work. It noted that the world cannot claim it did not know, since Doctors Without Borders had been advocating "a far greater response for many months."

The editorial also indicated that if Ebola becomes endemic in West Africa, it could "become a reservoir for the virus’s spread to other parts of Africa and beyond." It pointed out that the conditions of collapse in the three victim countries, among other factors, means that outbreaks of diseases that might have once been controllable, "can become a massive, nearly uncontrollable epidemic."

It also warned that the overwhelmed local health systems will also lead to many deaths resulting from other, treatable conditions, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, enteric and respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, and childbirth complications.

The NEJM editorial also warns of the future dangers to the world’s population that is demonstrated by this Ebola epidemic: A disease "with a different pathogen and a different transmission route, a similar crisis could strike in New York, Geneva, and Beijing as easily as this one has in West Africa."