The news that a patient infected with Ebola has been diagnosed in the United States has sparked a wide range of reactions, but there is little reason to fear an outbreak here of the disease that has left more than 3,000 people dead in Africa.
For all its faults, the United States’ public health system is lightyears ahead of the systems in place in West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak has hit the hardest.
In Liberia, a nation recovering from 14 years of civil war, the World Health Organization has called for non-conventional international intervention because the outbreak has grown faster than the nation’s weakened infrastructure can work to contain it. The staff at one hospital even went on strike over the lack of basic necessities like rubber gloves.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Sierra Leone, another hard-hit nation, has 45,455 residents for every physician. Contrast that with the United States, where there is one physician for every 408 residents.
These dire conditions have greatly exasperated the spread of Ebola. Nations, aid organizations and charities around the world have moved to shore up resources in the area, efforts that have been hampered by the region’s rainy season.
A scientist checks the results of blood testing in a CDC mobile lab in Liberia in August. | Getty Images
There has been a rush to move not just basic supplies and personnel to afflicted areas, but to build new infrastructure from the ground up. The Pentagon has announced a $22 million, 25-bed field hospital in Liberia to keep health care workers healthy. The U.S. plans to build another 17 clinics in Liberia. Britain will add 700 treatment beds to Sierra Leone’s struggling network, and France will send a field hospital and doctors to Guinea. These nations and many more have pledged to train workers in the practices needed to contain Ebola.
Compare this hurry to deploy assets in West Africa to the United States: For all our gripes, the nation’s 5,723 registered hospitals and 18 million health care workers are well-equipped to treat cases of Ebola in the United States.
The CDC has made available a full range of resources on everything from basic diagnosis to tracking an infected person’s contact with other people. Here is how the United States’ hospitals have been preparing for Ebola, from the CDC’s website:
- Enhancing surveillance and laboratory testing capacity in states to detect cases
- Developing guidance and tools for health departments to conduct public health investigations
- Providing recommendations for healthcare infection control and other measures to prevent disease spread
- Providing guidance for flight crews, Emergency Medical Services units at airports, and Customs and Border Protection officers about reporting ill travelers to CDC
- Disseminating up-to-date information to the general public, international travelers, and public health partners
And then, of course, there is the method by which Ebola is contracted: have you come into contact with the remains, blood, sweat, feces, urine, vomit or semen of an infected person?
Then you don’t have Ebola.