Dec. 29, 2014 by Darius
[As 2014 draws to a close, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at what I consider to be the three biggest international affairs events to occur in 2014 and why I consider them to be important. Yesterday, I discussed my #3, Russia’s semi-invasion of Ukraine.]
The 2nd most important event of the year: the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Ebola is a virus, originally named after a river in Congo where it was first isolated, that causes a hemorrhagic fever: patients bleed to death internally. The virus was first identified in 1976 in two outbreaks, in which it killed several hundred people in Sudan and the DRC. In March 2014, though, the largest Ebola outbreak ever began in Guinea in West Africa.
Ebola quickly spread to Guinea’s neighbors, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This Ebola strain was different from the others: it persisted longer and was easier to transmit—making it even deadlier. Despite international efforts to stop it, Ebola has kept expanding. As of this week, Ebola is responsible for more than 12,500 cases and 7,700 deaths in eight countries, with all but a handful of deaths occurring in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
The Ebola outbreak is important for several reasons. (1) It has underlined the vulnerability of the international health system, designed to resist precisely this type of outbreak. WHO was unprepared, the countries affected had (and continue to have) rickety, underfunded public health systems, and when the international community did respond, it quickly became apparent how difficult it was to get basic resources like bleach and rubber gloves to affected communities. Even in the developed world, different but unexpected problems emerged, including airline cabin cleaning crews threatening to strike because of insufficient protections and the difficulty of finding contractors willing to handle the medical waste the few Ebola cases there generated. (2) Panic from Ebola gripped countries outside the actual danger zone, including the United States and Spain. Ebola played into anti-immigrant sentiments already percolating through rightist parties and even played a non-insignificant role in the US Congressional midterm elections in November. (3) Ebola has completely obliterated the social and medical infrastructures of an entire region of West Africa, with attendant economic contraction and possibly political repercussions to come. It will take years, if not decades, to restore the damage caused by Ebola in these countries.
And the outbreak, once thought to be winding down, is resurgent. It will continue killing in 2015.
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