The world is in denial about Ebola’s true threat

Until there is a vaccine, limiting the spread of Ebola depends on education and behavior change. People must be persuaded to do things that violate powerful human inclinations. A parent must be persuaded not to touch a sick child. A relative must be persuaded not to respectfully prepare a body for burial. A man or woman with a fever must be persuaded to prepare for the worst instead of hoping for the best. This is the exceptional cruelty of Ebola — it requires human beings to overcome humane instincts for comfort, tradition and optimism. And this difficult education must come from trusted sources in post-conflict societies where few institutions have established public trust.

The Ebola virus has sometimes been like a fire in a pine forest — burning in hidden ways along the floor before suddenly flaring. There are, perhaps, 12,000 Ebola cases in West Africa. The World Health Organization warns there may be 5,000 to 10,000 new cases each week by December. This would quickly overwhelm existing and planned health capacity (1,700 proposed beds in Liberia from the U.S. military, perhaps 1,000 beds in community care centers).

At this level of infection, the questions become: Is Ebola containable? Will we see disease-related hunger? How will rice crops be harvested and transported? What effects will spiking food prices have on civil order? Might there be large-scale, disease-related migration? What would be the economic effects on all of Africa? Many are still refusing to look at these (prospective) horrors full in the face.