Socialist Worker

Ebola deaths grow as US and Britain send in troops

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2426

A US military aircraft arrives in Liberia

A US military aircraft arrives in Liberia (Pic: US Army Africa/flickr)

Some 500 people died of Ebola during the last week, taking the total of this outbreak past 4,500. 

This situation will get worse. The number of cases in the three west African countries where it is out of control—Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea— doubles each month. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said there are now 9,000 confirmed Ebola cases in Africa and there could be 10,000 new infections a week by December. 

It is this vast increase that undermines the argument that Ebola is a relatively minor disease in terms of deaths compared to Malaria or tuberculosis.

Scientists fear the casualty figures grossly underestimate the number of cases, particularly in Liberia. 

The WHO calls this outbreak “the most severe acute public health emergency of modern times.”

Many commentators see it as a problem of containment—to stop it getting out of west Africa.

But the real problem is stopping its spread in Africa. What is needed are health workers and money.

Liberia has about a fifth of the beds it needs and that doesn’t take into account the exponential increase in cases.

Each clinic costs about £600,000 a month to run and each patient should be looked after by at least two staff. 

But local hospitals don’t have enough money or staff.


While more than 600 NHS workers have volunteered to go, the British government is prioritising sending 750 military personnel. It has yet to say how many civilian medical staff it will send.  

The US government has said it will send 65 medical staff from the Department of Health and Human Services to work alongside its 4,000 troops already in the country. 

In contrast, the Medecins Sans Frontieres charity has sent 300 medical staff and hired another 3,000 locals. Cuba has sent more than 450 medical staff. 

The disease is best controlled by working with the impoverished people who are most at risk, not treating them as an external threat. 

Prices of staple foods have more than doubled in disease-hit areas and starving people will not cooperate with the authorities.

But outbreaks have been contained in Nigeria and Senegal. This is because health services have been provided to quarantine local people and provide enough doctors to trace those who have been exposed. 

But in the West the focus has been on panic about it spreading, rather than the devastation of west Africa. 

This has reached its most extreme in the US, where there is pressure in congress to ban flights from west Africa. 

The speaker John Boehner has spoken in favour and 72 members of congress have supported it, including 63 Republicans and nine Democrats.

But the ban makes no sense as there are no direct commercial flights to the US from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. 

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Tue 21 Oct 2014, 16:43 BST
Issue No. 2426
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