What does the Ebola outbreak say about the state of the world?
Breaking the Fever
With Ophelia Dahl just back from Liberia and Sierra Leone, Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and poverty guru, and Dr. Jim Cunningham, the virus detective, we’re reckoning with Ebola, still the world’s biggest story. We’re looking for long-term cures that will outlast this feverish moment in American media.
We’re curious about the prehistory of this disease, first manifest in 1976. This time, it spread from a child in the Guinean countryside a year ago to the gates of West Africa’s biggest cities. Where will it go, or not go, next?
Richard Preston in The New Yorker tells of the death of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, on the frontlines in Liberia heroically treating hemorrhagic fevers and then succumbing to one, and about the race to beat the disease: with a drug, or a vaccine. (But it’s Preston, of course, who introduced the world to Ebola as an almost biblical plague in The Hot Zone, and its film adaptation, Outbreak.)
What have we learned? That countries like Liberia are still dealing with massive shortfalls in health infrastructure, but that countries like Nigeria can contain Ebola. That even with our behemoth medical establishment, we can still get the chills when a tropical disease lands on our shores. That we could close the borders, but that we certainly shouldn’t. And that, to quote Dylan Matthews at Vox, we can politicize anything.
The question: what does the Ebola outbreak, and American worries about it, say about the global age? And what’s to be done?
co-founder and president of Partners in Health.
American economist, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time.
virologist specializing in Ebola at Brigham & Women's Hospital, and at Harvard University's Virology Lab.