The current Ebola outbreak is “running much faster” than the international response to it, the co-discoverer of the virus said Thursday.
“This is the first Ebola epidemic where entire nations are involved, where big cities are affected,” Peter Piot, a microbiologist and a former undersecretary general of the United Nations, told Global Public Square host Fareed Zakaria. “And I continue to be worried that the response to the epidemic is really running behind the virus.”
According to the World Health Organization’s latest update, there have been almost 9,000 confirmed and suspected cases, with almost 4,500 deaths. However, the WHO warned there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of this year.
Piot, a member of the team that discovered the virus in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, made headlines earlier this month when he told The Guardian newspaper he feared an “unimaginable catastrophe” if the virus became lodged in a mega-city such as Lagos.
“The three countries that are affected are being totally destabilized, not only in terms of people who are killed by Ebola — their families, the orphans that now are coming up because the parents died — but the economy has come to a standstill,” Piot said Thursday, speaking from Oxford.
“People are massively dying from other diseases that are normally treatable, like malaria, or women die while giving birth because hospitals are abandoned or are full with Ebola patients. So that’s a very, very destabilizing factor,” he said, adding that the impact of its spread is “beyond Ebola.”
Piot said that it is impossible to predict the number of cases. Asked about the WHO projections, he said: “10,000 per week, or 1,000, we don’t really know.”
“At the moment, there are about 1,000,” he said. “It’s still expanding, that’s for sure. And it probably will continue to grow until all the measures have been put in place in a more efficient way.”
Piot’s comments came on the same day as Daniel Varga, the chief clinical officer for Texas Health Services, apologized over mistakes he says were made in the care of Thomas Duncan, a Liberian national who became the first person in the United States to die from the virus. Duncan was sent home despite saying he had a fever and that he had visited West Africa.
“Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr. Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes,”Varga testified to Congress. “We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry.”