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September 10, 2014

How can the U.S. help fight Ebola?


An unprecedented outbreak of Ebola disease in West Africa is drawing an international response and has raised questions about what the U.S. can do to help.

Over 2,300 people have died in the current outbreak, which is the largest in Africa’s history. The outbreak began in Guinea and soon spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. An official from the National Institute of Health has said that the virus is “out of control” and only a massive international response will help stop it.

The American strategy to help curb the virus’ spread involves governmental agencies and non-governmental groups such as the Center for Disease Control, according to Nancy Lindborg of the United States Agency for International Development.

The U.S. announced a $10 million contribution to the African Union, and USAID has contributed $100 million to efforts on the ground.

The Ebola virus has a mortality rate of up to 90 percent in humans, meaning that in some areas 9 out of every ten people who gets sick, dies. It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and there is currently no effective treatment, cure or vaccine for the virus.

The virus spread so quickly because West Africa has been weakened by civil war and does not have a strong health care infrastructure, according to Lindborg. Stopping Ebola will require coordination between those countries and health groups such as the World Health Organization.

“We’re working closely with the global community, and this is really going to take an all-hands-on-deck kind of approach,” Lindborg said.

It is also important for communities to learn how to protect themselves from Ebola. Many of the virus’ victims have been people who took care of infected family members or participated in burial rituals, situations that put them in contact with infected bodily fluids.

The U.S. has sped human trials for the development of a vaccine that has shown promising signs in monkeys. Several Americans who contracted the disease received this vaccine in its experimental stages, sparking a debate about who should have access to the vaccine’s limited supply.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is West Africa?
  2. What is a virus? How is it different from bacteria in terms of how doctors treat it?
  3. Have you ever had a flu shot? What is the purpose of preventative medical treatments like vaccines?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How might the lack of infrastructure in the post-civil war West African nations make it more challenging to stop the spread of Ebola?
  2. Why might local villagers be afraid of the World Health Organization workers who are visiting local villages? Why do you think people have hid from them or even attacked them?
  3. What is the responsibility of the United States to assist in the fight against Ebola and help the victims? Explain your answer.
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