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Sizing up the scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa

In West Africa, more than four thousand people have died of Ebola. Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan to report on the status of the global response to the health crisis facing the countries in Africa at the epicenter of the virus' spread.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For more about the situation in West Africa where more than 4,000 people have died of the disease, we're joined now via Skype by Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal.

    He recently was in Sierra Leone and Liberia and joins us tonight from Ghana. Throughout the week we have health experts from Europe and in the United States say that the problem is much worse in Africa, that there aren't enough health care workers to deal with this – what's life like on the streets where you've been visiting?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    It's terrible. Particularly in Monrovia, Liberia's capital. I was there two weeks and every time I left the hotel I saw some sign of the tragedy. You would see a body on the road, or a sick person surrounded by a crowd.

    You do see more response too. You see ambulances blaring up and down the street, you see body teams going to collect bodies. Unfortunately, it's just the response just seems so far behind the disease.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Drew, you've been to this region multiple times now, give us a sense of perspective on the scale of how bad it is.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    It's incredible, when I first went there in early August, you really had to work to find Ebola victims, now they find you. The cases are doubling every three weeks. The difference is extraordinary. Everywhere you go, you see this massive increase in Ebola cases.

    If you look at it, if it's doubling every three weeks. You can sit down with a calculator and kind of plot how bad this could get, how quickly this could become sort of a huge once in a generational event, both for West Africa and for global public health.

    The scale of this is increasing extremely fast. It's extremely hard to see how public health will catch up with it if that doesn't come down soon.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Does that mean that the number of doctors has to double every three weeks to try to deal with this volume of patients?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    Exactly. I mean Ban Ki-moon just the other day mentioned that we need a twenty-fold increase in what we're doing right now. I think, I mean I'm not an epidemiologist, but my just being in Liberia and Sierra Leone – you'd say yeah he's right.

    The number of sick people, the number of families that have been totally wiped out, neighborhoods that are crawling with people who have been infected. It's just.

    There's this huge increase in what it was like in August and what it's like now. The number of doctors and nurses that we need on the ground is just so vast and the gap between what we need and what we have is only getting bigger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And at this point they're trying to convince people to stay at home and possibly die there instead of coming to a hospital.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    They just have no good answers right now. This is a huge debate. The CDC thinks it's a really horrible idea to basically give people gloves and painkillers and say, 'okay you know, feed your family members while they have Ebola.'

    On the other hand, people like UNICEF think 'what else are you going to do.' People are stuck in a house with their dying relatives.

    The rules are that you shouldn't touch them, that you shouldn't go near them, that you should leave them in a bedroom essentially to die, but that's just not a tenable option for most people when their loved one is dying, they get to a point where compassion overrules self-preservation.

    That's exactly how Ebola has been spreading house-to-house and unless there is just a huge increase in the number of hospital beds available, it will continue to happen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I think the [Wall Street] Journal had this morning the amount of water for example per patient that it takes to try to contain this.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    You need just this massive amount of logistics – bleach, water, you know hundreds of head-to-toe suits every day, face masks, gloves, just a huge amount of logistics that you need build and operate these clinics.

    I mean the Sierra Leone airport is so far from the capital that you can only get to it by boat. These are countries that just aren't set up to have a huge increase in logistics like that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's happening to the sense of I guess comfort in the people? I mean they must know that the entire world is looking at them in this way and as their economy slows down, are people looking for exit strategies?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    People are trying to leave. People are extremely edgy. Even where people accept the science of Ebola, they're obviously scared. And where people don't, they're completely confused and panicked. It's extremely edgy.

    Just the other day I saw a giant mob. I have no idea what was going on, but it was right outside of an Ebola clinic. A giant mob appeared to be I don't know if they were beating someone, but we turned the car about and left.

    But everywhere you go, you just kind of angry mobs that are upset about sick people in their neighborhood, or bodies that haven't been collected. People are very, very frightened.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Alright, Drew Hinshaw of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    Thank you, too.

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