At an emergency hearing Thursday, leaders of the fight against Ebola gave updates on the situation in Africa and the future of the deadly disease’s possible spread.
At an emergency hearing in Washington Thursday afternoon, major players in the fight against Ebola in West Africa addressed the outbreak that has stolen the lives of more than 900. Leaders from health agencies and humanitarian efforts addressed the need for increased support as one called the current state of affairs in West Africa “apocalyptic.”
Rep. Christopher Smith, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, opened the hearing by urging the speakers to clear the air on a “grave issue” that has “gripped” the mass media for weeks. “We hope to gain a realistic understanding of what we’re up against while avoiding sensationalism,” he told the floor. Here are the takeaways:
The outbreak is getting worse.
Already an unprecedented outbreak, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says the number of infected and killed by Ebola will likely soon outnumber all other Ebola outbreaks in the past 32 years combined. According to the CDC, there have already been more than 1,700 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola in West Africa, and more than 900 deaths–numbers which Frieden later called “too foggy” to be definitive. Ken Isaacs, the Vice President of Program and Government Relations for Samaritan’s Purse (SIM), painted an even bleaker picture. According to SIM, West Africa has counted 1,711 diagnoses and 932 deaths, already, which could represent only a small fraction of the actual number. “We believe that these numbers represent just 25-50 percent of what is happening,” said Isaacs.
The atmosphere in West Africa is “apocalyptic.”
In a six-hour meeting with the president of Liberia last week, Isaacs said SIM workers watched as the “somber” officials explained the gravity of the situation in their countries, where hundreds lie dead in the streets. “It has an atmosphere of apocalypse,” Isaacs said of the Liberia Ministry of Health’s status updates. “Bodies lying in the street … gangs threatening to burn down hospitals. I believe this disease has the potential to be a national security risk for many nations. Our response has been a failure.” Isaacs says that the epidemic is inciting panic worldwide that, in his opinion, may soon be warranted. “We have to fight it now here or we’re going to have to fight it somewhere else.”