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September 26, 2014

Obama calls for international response to Ebola

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President Obama told world leaders at the United National General Assembly that the international community is “not moving fast enough” to contain the Ebola epidemic.

The current outbreak of Ebola emerged in rural Guinea in March. It quickly spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria, killing 2,900 people out of more than 6,200 confirmed cases, with a case fatality rate of about 50 percent. It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and many have contracted the virus while caring for sick family members or performing funeral rites for victims. There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, though a vaccine is currently in development.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has called for a swift international response to help curb the virus, with a potential price tag of $1 billion. Without intervention, the number of cases could reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of Jan. 2015, according to the CDC.

Only 18 percent of Liberians with Ebola are currently in hospitals or quarantined. In Sierra Leone, the government has quarantined one-third of the country in an effort to contain the virus. The World Health Organization has said that Liberia alone needs 1,500 additional beds for Ebola patients.

Last week, Obama announced that the U.S. would send 3,000 troops to build 17 new treatment centers with a total of 1,700 beds, as well as a facility to train 500 health care workers per week.

The virus is hard to treat in affected countries, most of whom have fragile health infrastructures that cannot support an influx of patients.

And with no vaccine available yet, the virus also presents a danger to the health workers who treat it. 240 health workers have contracted the virus, and half of them have died, making it difficult to find new staff, according to Doctors Without Borders President Dr. Joanne Liu.

“The work force right now is quite, I would say, dispersed,” Liu said. “And many of them have, I would say, fled from health care centers because they are completely collapsed.”

Some communities distrust intervention by the U.S. and Europe, suspecting that Ebola is a hoax. A group in Liberia attacked an Ebola clinic in August, letting loose dozens of patients.

“They had lean budgets and so they had to build lean spacecraft in novel ways,” he said.


Warm up questions
  1. >What have you heard about the Ebola outbreak?
  2. How does disease spread?
  3. What is the United Nations?  Why was it formed and what does it try to do?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What different tasks are involved in helping fight Ebola? Why is it necessary to have a large staff of people dedicated to this cause?
  2. Why is it important for the international community to respond to the Ebola epidemic?
  3. In order to protect from Ebola, people must avoid physical contact with others who are infected. How could this be challenging within a family or community? If you had a family member with an infectious disease, would you find it difficult to avoid them?
  4. Some communities in West Africa are wary of the U.S. and European intervention. Why might they feel this way? How can health workers try to foster trust in affected communities?

For more teaching resources on Ebola, see our Ebola lesson plan here.

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