We Could Have Stopped Ebola, CDC Expert Says

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The Ebola epidemic could have been stopped sooner if the world had done even a little bit to build up a public health system in West Africa, a top CDC expert said Tuesday.

“We must do more, and do it quickly, to strengthen global health security around the world, because we are all connected,” said Dr. Beth Bell, director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “If we do not act to stop Ebola, we could be dealing with it for years to come.”

“If even modest investments had been made to build a public health infrastructure in West Africa previously, the current Ebola epidemic could have been detected earlier, and it could have been identified and contained. This Ebola epidemic shows that any vulnerability could have widespread impact if not stopped at the source," Bell told a joint hearing of the Senate Appropriations and Health committees.

Ebola’s been around since 1976, and most outbreaks are now stopped quickly with standard methods – quick diagnosis, quick isolation of patients and clean disposal of bodies. The West African epidemic has been spreading for months and is now worsening.

The Obama administration is asking Congress to appropriate money so that a new military-led push can not only extinguish the epidemic, but create a health infrastructure in West Africa so that other outbreaks don’t spread out of control. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are all recovering from devastating civil wars that left them with few hospitals, almost no laboratory capacity and a population not used to modern medical care.

“Stopping outbreaks where they occur is the most effective and least expensive way to protect people’s health,” Bell said. “While this tragic epidemic reminds us that there is still much to be done, we know that sustained commitment and the application of the best evidence and practices will lead us to a safer, healthier world. With a focused effort and resources proposed in the FY 2015 President’s Budget, we can stop this epidemic, and leave behind a strong system in West Africa and elsewhere to prevent Ebola and other health threats in the future.”


-- Maggie Fox