September 2014

Sobering words coming from Dr. Pardis Sabeti, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard in a forthcoming OpEd to appear in the NY Times on Sept 7. Take a look:

The time to act – by praying, giving money to MSF or WHO, and sending health care experts is now… Ebola may be in West Africa today but it could find its way very quickly to America or Europe or Asia or Australia if not tomorrow, in a matter of a very short time. And then it will take far more than 2,000 lives.


This weekend, the first case of Ebola was confirmed in Senegal, the fifth African nation to report a case in this latest and largest horrific outbreak. He is a Guinean man who’s been placed under observation. When a country knows exactly who the index case is for this disease, and are able to track the spread of the outbreak from the start, that once gave me hope that the spread of the disease could be contained. Now,  I have my doubts.

I’ve been holding my breath ever since a naturalized American from Minnesota, whose roots were Liberian, landed in Lagos on July 21. Reports indicate he was symptomatic on the plane and its not clear how or why he was cleared to board the flight in Monrovia. He died 4 days later. At least 4 health care workers who came into contact with him have subsequently died, as well as a driver who took him from the hospital to a nearby medical center – which has now since closed.

Few updates are emerging from Nigeria so its hard to tell if no news is in fact good news, or if the government is trying to keep anxiety in check, or both. To contain the spread of Ebola in Nigeria, the government has postponed the start of the school year until October 13, presumably to curb cross-country travel until them. This seems a bit reactionary, unless contact tracing occurring from the initial case has broken down. Recent reports suggest that it may have. The latest I read on line about the Nigeria situation concerned the death of a doctor in the southern city of Port Harcourt, who treated one of the original Liberian man’s contacts. The contact is reportedly doing OK, but the doctor who treated him has succumbed to the disease: .

This is troubling, to hear of Ebola spreading to another urban center in a completely different geographic region of the country – and that it has taken the life of yet another health care worker, a group that has been particularly hard hit.

We’ve not seen anything quite like this before. On the world’s poorest continent, in countries that are recovering from war (like Liberia and Sierra Leone), and others (like Nigeria) that are trying not to teeter towards war, and in nations that already have such fragile health systems, this epidemic of an infectious disease emerging where its never been seen before, will stretch Africa’s leadership to the extreme.

Lord, have mercy.