Though West Africa, with help from the international community, has made progress containing the Ebola virus outbreak, a long, hard fight remains to end it. But health policy experts have learned several lessons that can help contain future outbreaks.
- Establish credible information. Public health experts must get accurate information to the media and correct misinformation quickly. Misunderstanding has sparked stigma against Ebola survivors in West Africa.
- Infrastructure slows an epidemic. Access to equipment, hospital units, health care workers and training can contain contagious illnesses. Every country needs to strengthen this medical infrastructure in the areas most vulnerable to infection. “Stopping Ebola is a priority for the United States. … [But] we cannot do this alone,” says President Obama.
- Be culturally sensitive. Modifying traditional burial customs that spread Ebola, rather than banning them, helped West Africans accept assistance from foreign aid workers. “You can’t just blast into a place and expect people to drop everything and do what you tell them to do. They have to be utterly convinced your motives are good,” says David Nabarro, U.N. special envoy on Ebola.
- Prevention is the best cure. “If we don’t start getting ahead of the curve on pandemics, we’re sitting here like victims waiting for the next one,” said Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and president of EcoHealth Alliance, a research organization. Scientists study animals to predict what viruses and bacteria might emerge as the next human threat. They study maps to predict where the next epidemic might break out.
By learning the appropriate lessons from this public health emergency, we may be better able to combat or even prevent the next one.