‘Very Late to the Game’


Laurie Garrett, an American journalist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism in 1996 for a series of works published on the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire, believes the commitment of the United States Government to provide support to the tune of US$750 million and 3000 military personnel, “is coming very late to the game”. 

In an interview with the US National Public Radio, on Saturday, September 20, Garrett expressed concern that numbers are not firm and “it could end up being a great deal more money and more or less personnel.  “They haven’t done their on-the-ground needs surveillance,” she said, referencing “key elements and the role the military would play” such as “field logistics, mass mobilization of supplies and goods; expanding and improving on a rapid pace airport runway and delivery systems; elements of hospital construction; and general needs assessment.”

She warned that the United States is coming “very late to the game. Even with the US Military – the fastest mobilizing operation I know of, tells me directly in my meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it’s going to take 50 to 100 days to mobilize the different elements that they’ve promised to commit.  We’re so far behind the virus that I’m quite fearful that we won’t catch up.  If we conservatively say these three countries have a cumulative 15,000 cases and you say, as it was announced, it’s doubling every 15 to 21 days: so that means by end of September it would be 30,000; by end of October, 120,000 and by the time we all gather around our Christmas trees, it would be over 400,000.”

Garrett is currently a senior fellow (since 2004) for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in Washington, DC. She has worked on a broad variety of issues including SARS, avian flu, tuberculosis, malaria, shipping container clinics, and the intersection of HIV/AIDS and national security.

“All the prior epidemics – some 20 outbreaks since 1976 – have occurred in isolated rural areas and been primarily handful of family members, co-infected, coming into a medical facility and then the medical facility itself became the amplifier of the infection,” says Garrett, drawing on her recollections of previous outbreaks of the Ebola virus.  “But this one has broken all the rules. So, for the first time we really see classic urban person-to-person spread in Monrovia, in Freetown and in Conakry. It has also crossed borders; so we have three countries with three different sets of policies and skills levels.  And it also hit countries that have been through some of the most brutal civil wars in modern history… so that, as this began to unfold, it unfolded in the atmosphere of deeply embedded distrust to give us the worst Ebola epidemic in history.”

She also believes, however, that the world has finally woken up to the dangerous reality of the Ebola epidemic.  “When the Security Council convened and voted on a resolution related to the Ebola epidemic, it was co-signed by 130 other nations, making it the most strongly supported resolution in the history of the United Nations. One key element of that resolution is declaring that Ebola now represents a national security threat for every nation on earth.”


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