In West Africa, though, the outbreak is far from over, and it looks like Ebola will belong not just to 2014, but 2015 as well. There have been more than 6,000 deaths in the region so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest WHO report says that transmission rates are stable in Guinea, decreasing in Liberia, but still "intense" in Sierra Leone.
With that in mind, I asked several experts—healthcare workers, journalists, and officials—what they've taken away from watching the Ebola outbreak unfold this year, and what lessons we, as a society, should learn to better deal with this outbreak, and future ones. Their responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health
The Ebola crisis serves as a stark personal reminder of something I have witnessed multiple times in my decades working in the field of infectious diseases. When a new infectious disease risk arises, a segment of the general public frequently perceives the risk to be much larger than it actually is, certainly out of proportion to what the scientific information would indicate. Because it is human nature to fear the unknown, this response is understandable. Time and time again, we have seen that the best solution to this misperception is crisp, clear communication about what is known and unknown about how the disease is transmitted and spread, who is most at risk, and how individuals who may be at risk can best protect themselves from infection.
The Ebola outbreak has cast a bright light on how disparities in healthcare infrastructure can profoundly affect the vulnerability of certain populations to the spread of certain infectious diseases. A sound healthcare infrastructure that can readily identify people with Ebola infection, isolate them, protect healthcare workers from becoming infected, and do tracing of contacts of infected people who might then spread the virus is critical to prevent widespread outbreaks. If the West African countries stricken by the current Ebola outbreak had a reasonable healthcare infrastructure, the outbreak would not have gotten out of control. The developed world should act in partnership with poorer countries to eliminate this disparity.
Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance journalist and Ebola survivor
It's wrong to assume that large institutions and governments are the only agents that can address problems in the developing world. Heroic efforts by Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization, and other healthcare workers that ran Ebola treatment units were invaluable, but it appears that many deaths in Liberia were prevented by Liberians themselves. Once people started to see their neighbors dying, awareness of the disease increased and people shifted behavior patterns that put them at risk for Ebola. It makes one wonder what could have been possible if Liberian community leaders were given a bigger role in the fight during the first phase of the outbreak.