The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa and its unprecedented spread has prompted dire warnings from the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in Atlanta, Dr. Tom Frieden. Recently returned from a three-nation tour of the affected region (Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia), Frieden is urging a concerted international response to aid the stricken area to help defeat the rampant pathogen.
Appearing on "CBS This Morning" Sept. 1, Dr. Tom Frieden told CBS News that health officials had to act now in order to effectively contain and control the Ebola virus that has overwhelmed three western African nation thus far and, just last week, opened a viral bridgehead into a fifth nation -- Senegal. Painting a bleak picture, Frieden said that the current epidemic was going to get worse.
“It is the world’s first Ebola epidemic and it is spiraling out of control. It’s bad now and it’s going to get worse in the very near future,” Frieden told CBS. “There is still a window of opportunity to tamp it down, but that window is closing. We really have to act now.”
Frieden will speak before Congress on Tuesday in an effort to raise awareness as to the how dire the West Africa situation has become. He says he will tell Washington that the Ebola epidemic is "spiraling upward."
The director of the CDC's words mirror those of the World Health Organization (WHO), which last week issued an situation assessment on the outbreak. The organization also noted the devastating impact the epidemic is having on the healthcare workers caring for the sick and attempting to contain the viral outbreak. WHO noted that there had been over 240 healthcare workers infected thus far during the current situation. Of those, over 120 had died. Among the reasons for such a high mortality rate among the healthcare workers was the combined facts that there weren't enough to effectively combat such a fast and deadly viral outbreak and that numerical limitations also placed time demands on workers, pushing up levels of exhaustion and fatigue and increasing the likelihood of mistakes (not to mention the fact that a body's own immune system is weakened by physical exhaustion, thus limiting the body's own ability to fight a disease whose historical kill rate is 90 percent).
WHO also noted that with the nearly unchecked spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, and with conditions worsening, the number of infected cases would likely top 20,000 within the next nine months. Since the latest outbreak has entered urban and metropolitan areas, the spread of the virus has been far more dramatic than past outbreaks, which were contained to remote villages and isolated regions. The current epidemic has already officially affected over 3,000 individuals in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, with 1,552 individuals having died (as of Aug. 28).
As Dr. Frieden explained, the countries most affected thus far would continue to be a hotbed of contagion. They would also continue to need aid and support.
“We need to support countries with resources, with technical experts and with cooperation. Too many places are sealing off these countries,” Frieden told CBS News. “If we do that, paradoxically, it’s going to reduce safety everywhere else. Whether we like it or not, we’re all connected and it’s in our interest to help them tamp this down and control it.”
Several African countries have refused to allow commerce with the affected nations, closing their borders and airports. Senegal, which has a contiguous border with Guinea, had closed its borders. Still, the nation reported its first case of Ebola this past week -- a student from Guinea.
Director Tom Frieden says that tried and true methods of containment and eradication of the Ebola virus are what is needed. It is just a matter of scale. Since the scope of the current Ebola epidemic was "vastly underestimated" to begin with, the response needs to expand to deal with the actual size of the problem. He also noted that, although helpful and hopeful, new vaccines and treatments would not be enough.
“Vaccines and treatments may come along, but right now what we have are tried and true methods that we have to scale up. They have worked in prior outbreaks but we are not getting to scale,” Frieden told “CBS This Morning.” “The epidemic is going faster than we are. We need to scale up our response. We can hope for new tools and maybe they’ll come, but we can’t count on them.”
At a CDC briefing later Monday, Dr. Frieden repeated his concerns, stating that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was “now increasing rapidly... This is not just a problem for West Africa, not just a problem for Africa, it’s a problem for the world and the world needs to respond."
Echoing words of hope he had uttered when the outbreak had reached epidemic proportions back in earlyAugust, he added: “We need help now. We know how to stop it.”