Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who named Ebola and was part of a team of scientists who discovered the virus in Kinshasa, formerly Zaire, in 1976, says the Ebola outbreak is no longer an epidemic but a “human catastrophe” he never thought “could get this bad.”
“It should be clear to all of us: This isn’t just an epidemic any more. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. We don’t just need care personnel, but also logistics experts, trucks, jeeps and foodstuffs. Such an epidemic can destabilize entire regions. I can only hope that we will be able to get it under control. I really never thought that it could get this bad,” said Piot when asked if the world had lost control of the Ebola epidemic in an interview with The Guardian.
“I have always been an optimist and I think that we now have no other choice than to try everything, really everything. It’s good that the United States and some other countries are finally beginning to help. But Germany or even Belgium, for example, must do a lot more,” he explained.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa. Some 7,470 cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 3,431 of them have died. Cases have also been reported in Nigeria and Senegal, and the United States confirmed its first case of the deadly disease in Dallas, Texas, a week ago.
Piot, who named Ebola after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, explained that the catastrophic outbreak of the virus was caused by what he calls a “perfect storm.”
“I think it is what people call a perfect storm: when every individual circumstance is a bit worse than normal and they then combine to create a disaster. And with this epidemic there were many factors that were disadvantageous from the very beginning. Some of the countries involved were just emerging from terrible civil wars, many of their doctors had fled and their healthcare systems had collapsed. In all of Liberia, for example, there were only 51 doctors in 2010, and many of them have since died of Ebola,” he said.
Piot explained that if Ebola hits large cities, it will be almost impossible to track and lead to an “unimaginable catastrophe.”
“In large cities, particularly in chaotic slums, it’s virtually impossible to find those who had contact with patients, no matter how great the effort. That is why I’m so worried about Nigeria as well. The country is home to mega-cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, and if the Ebola virus lodges there and begins to spread, it would be an unimaginable catastrophe,” he emphasized.
Piot, however, expressed confidence that an Ebola outbreak in Europe or North America would be quickly brought under control when asked if he thought the outbreak was the beginning of a pandemic.
“There will certainly be Ebola patients from Africa who come to us in the hopes of receiving treatment. And they might even infect a few people here who may then die. But an outbreak in Europe or North America would quickly be brought under control,” he said.
“I am more worried about the many people from India who work in trade or industry in West Africa. It would only take one of them to become infected, travel to India to visit relatives during the virus’s incubation period, and then, once he becomes sick, go to a public hospital there. Doctors and nurses in India, too, often don’t wear protective gloves. They would immediately become infected and spread the virus,” Piot explained.
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