The Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continues to spread despite country and international efforts to stop it in its tracks and make sure it never returns. As of October 1, 3,338 people have died and 7,178 are infected. More people have perished in this latest Ebola outbreak than in all previous outbreaks of the virus on the continent combined. In addition to the large number of people who have died, and the steady march of new infections, the three hardest-hit countries are also suffering heavy economic costs from trade and travel restrictions, food being in short supply, and other impacts. While health workers, international health agencies and charities work furiously to contain the outbreak, we must also think ahead so that we might avoid similar epidemics in the future. What might the first step be? Better understanding the animal origins of Ebola and other infectious diseases so that we can prevent an epidemic like this from ever happening again.
Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is transmitted from animals to humans. In past outbreaks, this has occurred during the handling of wildlife – bats, gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, even porcupines. The running hypothesis for this outbreak is that it came from bats, though an early focus of consideration was on primates trafficked through capital cities. Regardless of the precise path of transmission, it is clear that we must examine human relationships with wildlife to ensure we protect against this and other future disease risks.
In most cases, achieving real development outcomes on the ground is very complicated. But in the case of protecting people from malaria, it is simple. The disease is easily preventable and treatable.
On the prevention side, we know that insecticide treated nets work. So, everybody in countries with high malaria prevalence should have one. 200 million mosquito nets have been already delivered across sub-Saharan Africa.
This is protecting half of the world’s population at risk. 100 million more are being produced and delivered. But we still need 50 million more nets to ensure that people in danger are protected. That's why the World Bank today closed half that gap by providing funding for an additional 25 million nets.