| Sep 25, 2014
This post is unedited and republished with permission from FaithStreet.com.
by Roger Sandberg, Director, Emergency Relief and Global Security at MTI
Ebola could infect a million or more people — unless experienced organizations form strategic partnerships now.
In this week’s Ebola news, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) predicted that we could see as many as 1.4 million Ebola cases in January 2015. That’s how most Ebola news works: Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol aside, in the Western media Ebola is not a story of individual human suffering, but a story of numbers. The numbers of infected, the number of reported cases, the fatality rate, the number of dead. The Ebola story captures the poignancy of Stalin’s famous quote: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
As someone who spends his days working on crisis management in some of the world’s most vulnerable situations, I can tell you that if we are going to use numbers and statistics to discuss Ebola, we better be sure that we are using the correct math. So far, the response to Ebola has been one based on addition. How many additional Ebola treatment centers are needed? How many additional beds? How many additional doctors or nurses? How much additional funding? It is all about addition.
But Ebola is not about addition. It is about multiplication. Indeed, it is more like compound interest. For every person who is contracting the disease in Liberia, at least 1.5 people — and as many as 3 or 4 — are being infected. If we’re going to get ahead of Ebola, we have to reduce that number to less than 1.
By current estimates, in Liberia there are 350 to 400 beds at Ebola treatment centers; those beds are for an estimated need of 2,000. There are 50 to 70 new cases a day, a rate that is doubling every 15 to 20 days. Given a 50 to 60 percent case fatality rate, another 30 to 40 beds are needed each day. By the time 2,000 beds have been added, Ebola will have multiplied further. We are now seeing projections of 50,000 cases by November, 500,000 by early January, and, again, up to 1.4 million by late January.
The sooner we can understand Ebola’s multiplication, the sooner we can get ahead of it.
Even tripling our response is not going to get us out in front of Ebola. We need a concerted effort from multiple NGOs working together. . .
What do we need that we are currently not seeing? A concerted effort by the international community and by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGO I work for, Medical Teams International (MTI), is doubling our response right now, but that will not get us out ahead of this outbreak. Even tripling our response is not going to get us out in front of Ebola. We need a concerted effort from multiple NGOs working together — including the many NGOs that have decided not to organize on-the-ground efforts in Liberia.
Due to the risks associated with Ebola, many emergency response organizations have declined to respond to this deadly outbreak. Normally, emergency relief organizations show up in emergency situations — that is what they are trained to do. But it’s different with Ebola, because Ebola carries so much risk for those who help. Most of the organizations in Liberia today are ones that were there before the Ebola outbreak.
Those organizations need more staff and more resources. Boots on the ground is the issue, not military boots (although 3,000 of them are headed over). We need humanitarian boots — organizations and staff with emergency response experience and tropical disease experience — to partner with the organizations that are responding, especially Medical Teams International (MTI), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children, Samaritan’s Purse, Concern Worldwide, and Action Against Hunger (ACF).
This small handful of organizations needs partnerships with other NGOs that can share well-trained staff and resources. Call us. Send your experienced people. They can wear your t-shirt and represent your organization. We just need their help. If we’re going to tackle Ebola, we all must step forward together in a unified front.
Ebola is one of the most serious threats I’ve yet seen. In the face of multiplying danger, our efforts must be multiplied — or we will pay the cost.