Ebola Co-Discoverer Peter Piot Says Crisis Was 'Avoidable'

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The virologist who co-discovered the Ebola virus nearly 40 years ago says the international response to the ongoing outbreak was too slow, calling the epidemic that has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa an "avoidable" crisis.

"I never imagined the Ebola outbreak could evolve into such a big epidemic and, actually, a humanitarian crisis," Dr. Peter Piot, a professor of global health and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told NBC News partner ITN. He said a "perfect storm" of troubles in West Africa — decades of civil war, dysfunctional health services and scant medical resources — were made worse by a sluggish global response.

Piot called on the international community, particularly European nations, to ramp up the battle against the devastating virus. "We need to do more, because as long as the epidemic in West Africa is not brought under control, this is not only a disaster for the countries concerned ... (but) a source of infections all over the world," Piot said.

Piot was just 27 when he co-discovered Ebola while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1976, the lab received a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had died in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and had been diagnosed with yellow fever. The cause of death was later found to be a new virus, which the scientists named after a Zaire tributary called Ebola, or "Black River."


— Daniel Arkin