Ebola’s Lessons

How the WHO Mishandled the Crisis

Protective suits are left to dry after an Ebola training session held by Spain's Red Cross in Madrid, October 29, 2014. Susana Vera / Reuters

In a biological sense, last year’s Ebola epidemic, which struck West Africa, spilled over into the United States and Europe, and has to date led to more than 27,000 infections and more than 11,000 deaths, was a great surprise. Local health and political leaders did not know of the presence of the hemorrhagic fever virus in the 35,000-square-mile Guinea Forest Region, and no human cases had ever been identified in the region prior to the outbreak. Its appearance in the tiny Guinean village of Meliandou in December 2013 went unnoticed, save as a domestic tragedy for the Ouamouno family, who lost their toddler son Emile to a mysterious fever. Practically all the nonbiological aspects of the crisis, however, were entirely unsurprising, as the epidemic itself and the fumbling response to it played out with deeply frustrating predictability. The world has seen these mistakes before.

Humanity’s first known encounter with Ebola occurred

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