Though the furor has died down, the Ebola outbreak is not over. The latest World Health Organization situation report found 20 cases last week compared with 24 cases the week before. Liberia was declared free of the disease on May 9, but cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone have continued to hover at 20-27 per week.
When you compare that to six months ago, when there were hundreds of new cases per week, it certainly seems that things are approaching getting back to normal. But what we’ve learned from the Ebola outbreak is that, in the face of an unexpected pandemic, normal isn’t good enough.
“If one thing kills 10 million people on planet Earth in the next decade, it’s going to be a pandemic,” said Ron Klain, who served as the White House Ebola “czar” from October 2014 to February 2015, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday. “If you believe that’s the kind of threat we face, we need to have a response.”
When it comes to how things went so wrong, much has been made of the weakness of West Africa’s health systems. Samuel Kargbo, the director of health systems, policy, planning, and information for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, described the situation there. “[Ebola] was in the forested areas of the countries, the places that were hard to reach, with seasonal roads, which are terrible. It was difficult for the health system to reach these places ordinarily,” he said. “When it happened, our staff were not really ready for something like this, the first time we had this type of disease in the area. Because it was the very first time, nobody knew what to do, so they referred them to the general hospital which should not have been done. They should have made a field hospital to treat them there.”