Asia and Ebola: How big is the threat?
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Asia and Ebola: How big is the threat?

Despite some reports, the latest Ebola outbreak has not gone global. It has so far claimed over 1,000 lives, including the first European death, a Spanish priest who succumbed in Madrid just five days after leaving Liberia for treatment. But this statistic may be misleading. Read beyond the headlines and you’ll find that the 75-year-old Missionary Miguel Pajares contracted the disease while treating patients in Liberia as part of a Catholic humanitarian group — a risky albeit noble endeavor. Furthermore, panic surrounding two possible Ebola cases in Hong Kong proved to be unjustified. All contractions of the virus in this latest outbreak (at present 1,848) have taken place in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, yet if you’re an African with stomach flu in Asia these days, you might end up quarantined.

As of yet there are no approved treatments specific to the Ebola virus. Because of the destructive nature of the disease, however, unapproved medicines are sometimes used. Unfortunately, the makers of the experimental Ebola treatment drug ZMapp have just announced that after shipping doses to an unnamed West African nation, their supplies are now exhausted. While Africa is desperate for a cure, there are moral implications about wealthy pharmaceutical companies using poor developing nations as living laboratories for drug development. These considerations cannot be ignored, nor should cutting edge treatment be exclusive to citizens of Western countries, as was claimed by Liberian health officials last week.

On the other hand, Liberia has praised China for donating supplies, including protective equipment, to enable health workers to serve the public with less fear of being infected. Liberia’s president credited China in a tour of her country’s hospitals.

From EuroAsia News:

As you can see, I have with me Chinese ambassador [Zhou Yuxiao] whose government has contributed a huge consignment of protective equipment for you to resume work.

—Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

According to the WHO, effective prevention is the frontline against Ebola:

Ebola outbreaks can be contained using available interventions like early detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring, and adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control. However, a specific treatment or vaccine would be a potent asset to counter the virus.

Now that ZMapp supplies are dry, we can only hope that the US-based producers of the drug, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., can soon manufacture more. In the meantime, preventative measures, realistic reporting abroad and level-headedness are all anyone can do.

From a press statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Tuesday, August 12:

We need to avoid panic and fear. Ebola can be prevented. With resources, knowledge, early action and will, people can survive the disease. Ebola has been successfully brought under control elsewhere and we can do it here too.

(source: AFP/de)

Actions such as stepping up security at Taiwan airports and education on the disease are reasonable responses to the epidemic. Hysteria linking Ebola to immigration and xenophobic politics, as members of the American right wing have done, is not a reasonable response.


Ebola treatment and isolation center in Sierra Leone. Pic: European Commission DG ECHO