The U.S. Is Trying to Stop an Ebola Pandemic
Policy + Politics

The U.S. Is Trying to Stop an Ebola Pandemic

The White House’s $750 million stake to stop the spread of the Ebola virus could not be higher, with millions of lives and billions of dollars at risk if the dreadful virus spreads out of control.

The World Health Organization estimates that 2,800 of at least 5,800 Ebola cases have ended in death. However, estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released this week show that 20,000 cases have occurred to date. The CDC estimates that the virus could spread to between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in the next four months.

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“Extensive, immediate actions - such as those already started - can bring the epidemic to... a rapid decline in cases,” CDC said in a statement announcing their estimates. 

Right now, the virus has spread to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, where thousands of cases have been documented. It’s also popped up in Nigeria and Senegal. 

As more details about the Obama administration’s plan to stop the virus trickle out, it’s becoming clear that the 3,000 soldiers the Pentagon plans to send to West Africa would be there to contain the virus and attempt to stop it from spreading outside of the region.

“As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists -- supported by our military -- to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments,” Obama said in a speech at the United Nations Wednesday.

Related: Why There’s No Money in An Ebola Vaccine

According to William Fisher, a pulmonologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who treated Ebola patients over the summer, the key to stopping the virus from spreading further is stopping it in Nigeria.

“It’s the most populous country in Africa; it has tremendous natural resources. If Ebola gets into Lagos and takes hold in the population, the whole region is in trouble,” he said at an event last week. “Nigeria is almost a powder keg of sorts.”

Economic impact
The Ebola outbreak is already taking a toll on West Africa’s fragile economies. This past spring, Nigeria was being celebrated as Africa’s largest economy, with a GDP of $510 billion. Bismarck Rewane, CEO of the Financial Derivatives Company, a Lagos-based financial advisory and research firm that manages $18 million in assets, told CNBC Africa recently that Nigeria could now lose at least $3.5 billion of that GDP this year.

According to the World Bank, Liberia’s GDP will go down between 3.5 and 4.5 percent because of the outbreak. Amara Konneh, Liberian finance minister, has already lowered his GDP estimate because of Ebola. 

Related: Ebola by the Numbers

David Fidler, an associate fellow at the Center on Global Health Security at London's Chatham House, said that even if the outbreak is contained, significant damage has already been done.

“If it doesn’t get any worse, the impact on the region is adverse and very significant in an economic sense,” Fidler said. “We have everything to fear.”

Questions about DOD’s role
It also remains unclear what the rule of engagement is for soldiers trying to contain the virus. Militaries in West Africa are far from trusted, and the sight of American soldiers in places where the United States is often vilified and where violence is common increases the potential for confrontations.

There has already been violence done to those trying to stop the outbreak. Last week, in Guinea, eight health workers and journalists were killed while trying to educate people about the disease.

Even if DOD manages to contain the outbreak, Mwayabo Kazadi, an infectious disease expert at Catholic Relief Services, said it was just a matter of time before another outbreak occurs.

“We’ve come to where we are now because of the heath infrastructure in these countries,” he said. “If they were stronger, we could contain the current outbreak, but in the long-term we have to fix the systems.”

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