The Centers for Disease Control has modeled the possible spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia. (It did not address Ebola in Guinea.) Based on its computer models, it concludes that the range of victims is between 550,000 and 1,400,000, not taking into account the international Ebola relief efforts. The CDC’s worst-case scenario posts 21,000 cases of Ebola by September 30 and 1,400,000 cases by January 20, 2015. Its best case scenario has the epidemic nearing its end by the same month. The New York Times quotes CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden as saying that the situation was improving because of the arrival of international assistance: “My gut feeling is the actions we’re taking now are going to make that worst-case scenario not come to pass. But it is important to understand that it could happen.”
It is hard for me to share Dr. Frieden’s optimism. There is anecdotal and other evidence that the number of Ebola cases is substantially under-stated, as is the number of deaths. (The September 23 New York Times carries a story on the chaotic and overcrowded cemeteries in Sierra Leone) According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative. The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller.
As my CFR colleague Laurie Garrett has eloquently written, the Ebola catastrophe in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia is roughly equivalent to the Southeast Asia Tsunami in 2004 and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Yet the international response to Ebola has been far more anemic.