To understand the scale of response the world must mount in orderto stop Ebola’s march across Africa (and perhaps other continents), the world community needs to immediatelyconsider the humanitarian efforts following the 2004 tsunami and its devastation of Aceh, Indonesia. The U.S. and Singaporean militaries launched their largest rescue missions in history: The United States alone put 12,600 military personnel to a rescue and recovery mission, including the deployment of nearly the entire Pacific fleet, 48 helicopters, and every Navy hospital ship in the region. The World Bank estimated that some $5 billion in direct aid was poured into the countries hard hit by the tsunami, and millions more were raised from private donors all over the world. And when the dust settled and reconstruction commenced, the affected countries still cried out for more.
In contrast, the soaring Ebola epidemic garnered only a negligible international response from its recognition in March until early July. The outbreak originated in the tropical rain forest of Guinea in December 2013, but local health authorities did not recognize the new disease in humans in the country until four months later. They can be forgiven a slow reaction, as Ebola has never previously appeared in the West African region. Shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared an outbreak of the same strain of Ebola that first appeared in Zaire in 1976, outside humanitarian responders appeared on the sceneto assist Guinea; they were the organizations thatdominated the treatment and prevention efforts throughout the spring and into the summer, as Ebola spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. During that time the outbreaks were largely rural, confined to easily isolated communities, and could have been stopped with inexpensive, low-technology approaches.
But the world largely ignored the unfolding epidemic, even as the sole major international responder, Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French acronym, MSF), pleaded for help and warned repeatedly that the virus was spreading out of control. The WHO was all but AWOL, its miniscule epidemic-response department slashed to smithereens by three years of budget cuts, monitoring the epidemic’s relentless growth but taking little real action.