This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Can Ebola be Stopped?

ISIS is trying to expand its conquest of territory in the Middle East and everyone I talk to seems to agree that they need to be crushed. But how? At the same time, the Ebola virus is continuing its deadly spread in West Africa, and everyone agrees that this must be stopped. But how? In some ways, the situations are not dissimilar. The first reaction is panic, and then the next is quarantine. In the case of ISIS, try to keep them from grabbing any more territory. In the case of Ebola, keep people with the virus from getting out into public. In both cases, of course, you have mostly innocent people who are trapped inside the quarantine, and that is causing lots of problems. In West Africa, the government of Liberia lifted a quarantine it had placed on a large slum in the capital city of Monrovia. Throughout the region, the shutting down of airline travel to and from the infected nations appears to be hurting economies at the same time that a case has nonetheless appeared in Senegal and the WHO thinks the number of cases could rise to 20,000. 

So, quarantine serves mainly to get people's attention, and then the real work begins. In the case of Ebola it means trying to live in a more sanitary environment that minimizes the chance of contact with the bodily fluids of sick people. The Belgian research who first identified Ebola back in the 1970s was recently quoted as saying that:
"This is absolutely unexpected and unprecedented," he says. "We have here a situation where Ebola finds an enormously fertile ground in very poor countries with very dysfunctional health systems," he says. "A country like Liberia in 2010 had only 51 doctors for the whole country." He hopes there will never be another outbreak like this one. "I hope that this is the last epidemic where all we have [as treatment] is isolation of patients and quarantines and some supportive care, and we don't have stockpiles of vaccines and therapies."
There is potential for Ebola to spread to neighboring African countries, he says, but he is not worried about "high-income countries." "Our basic hospital hygiene is such that it is highly unlikely it would give rise to epidemics," he says.
So, the next step in the strategy is to guard against spread (without placing stifling quarantines that victimize the innocent) and build up protective and therapeutic measures. Since the best medicine for the long term is to prevent the disease, it is encouraging to read that progress is being made at a lab here in San Diego on the development of a vaccine against the Ebola virus. Next, of course, we need to vaccinate ourselves in some way or another against groups like ISIS.

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