CDC official: Tackling Ebola could take ‘a long time’

A group gathered in front of the CDC on Sept. 26 to raise the awareness of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Photos by Andrew Cauthen

“CDC: End Ebola Now” was the chant of more than a dozen people Sept. 26 across the street from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The event was scheduled “to continue to raise the awareness of what’s happening in West Africa,” said Alpha Jabbie, the event’s organizer.

“What’s happening in West Africa is unacceptable. The recent prediction that’s coming from the CDC is unacceptable—1.4 million people at risk of getting infected and possibly 70 percent of those people will die if the world community doesn’t step up and do more.”

One thing the CDC can do is to work with the pharmaceutical industry to fast-track a drug to combat the disease, said Jabbie, a native of Sierra Leone, where more than 1 million people have been quarantined because of the disease.

“We know the drug is available because the two doctors that have been treated at Emory got something, and we know it available,” Jabbie said. “Is it available for thousands, possibly millions of people? We don’t know? We know the United States…can do whatever it can to fast-track that drug.”

Dazia Fumbah, a Liberian native and founder of the nonprofit Our Seeds Tomorrow, said the CDC has done a great job but only can do so much.

“We want the Chinese on board,” Fumbah said. “We want the Germans on board. We want the Europeans on board because the issue is …people are dying by the minute. They are dying. One of the biggest issues we are facing…is that it’s a timing issue. It’s identifying who has Ebola to be able to control it.

“We appreciate what [the CDC] is doing, but we just want a little more effort,” Fumbah said.

John O’Connor, the associate director for communication science in CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, met with the advocates during the event.

He reminded the participants of the recent visit to the CDC by President Barack Obama who announced a “strategy to step up the response and part of that is to have [3,000] U.S. military troops go over who are going to construct these Ebola treatment units so we can get more beds on the ground so that people who are sick and need the care will get it.”

Jabbie said he appreciated the president coming to Atlanta “raising the bar, so to speak, for how the response should look.

“That was a first, good step,” Jabbie said. “We need more action. We need more robust action. We need CDC to keep us informed…as to what they’re doing and what’s the progress or lack thereof.”

Currently the CDC is developing a plan to address the outbreak while the special Ebola care facilities are being constructed, O’Connor said.

“We have to find a way that we can take care of people right now,” O’Connor said. “We are putting a plan in place that will [use] existing buildings…[as] Ebola community care centers that will be able to be [opened] faster.”

This interim measure, O’Connor said, is a collaborative effort between CDC, World Health Organization, United States Agency for International Development and UNICEF.

O’Connor said there is no way he could predict when the international effort to combat the Ebola virus will turn around the spread of the disease.
“We’re all hopeful that it will happen soon, but the way that the numbers have been escalating, we are concerned that we’re going to be [there] for a long time,” O’Connor said.

Addressing the CDC prediction that the 1.4 million people could become infected by the disease, O’Connor said, “That’s the far end of the prediction and that’s if nothing more is done.

“One of the reasons for trying to go public with that, get that information out there is to stress the urgency to the rest of the world that this is going to be a catastrophe if we don’t do more,” O’Connor said.

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