“Ebola is the Kardashian of diseases”

I tweeted that statement earlier this week, followed by “Do not get distracted. Malaria, TB, HIV is what matters.”

First, credit goes to @gbloembergen who comes up with much cleverer statements while holding alcoholic beverages than I do.

Second, why I agree with him:

  • Ebola is deadly serious but it seems to me the scaremongering is getting out of hand. Countries with even basic state capacity, such as Uganda, tend to be able to get outbreaks under control. A Western country could contain an outbreak, as could many (but not all) of Liberia or Sierra Leone’s neighbors. The reason we are seeing this explode is because, inevitably, Ebola is appearing in some of the weakest states in the world.
  • Thus the problem is not Ebola. Ebola outbreaks are the symptom of very weak states. The world can and should help to contain the outbreak there, but not forget what the cause is.
  • Meanwhile, malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS are already at pandemic proportions and I venture destroy more lives, more economies, and perhaps even more politics than Ebola.
  • Something like a third of Botswana have HIV or AIDS. 25 millions Africans have it, and more than a million die a year from it. A million. This is hugely economically and politically disruptive in some of the most advanced and politically important states in Africa, especially southern Africa.

I am not a public health expert so I’d love to be corrected. The right person to talk about this is probably Evan Lieberman at MIT, and in my ignorance I welcome summaries or insights from readers.

One response I received on Twitter that is important: the reaction to Ebola is what is abruptly destroying the economies of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some of this is sensible, and maybe that economic and political disruption will make Ebola a greater curse than HIV or TB or malaria. But I can’t escape the idea that the reaction is an overreaction, and that the economic and political destruction is partly due to Western hype. That’s a tragedy indeed.