The Ebola outbreak has created an increased atmosphere of national concern, but is it truly a serious threat to international stability? The simplest way to dissect this issue is to examine the facts.
Origins of the Ebola Outbreak
It is widely accepted that the recent Ebola outbreak began in late 2013. The ‘Patient 0’ of this outbreak was a two-year-old Guinean toddler who died on the sixth of December of that year. That is correct: when some of you were revising for your university and mock A-Level examinations, the outbreak had already begun. However, most of you would not have heard about this outbreak, which has so far infected approximately 10,000 people within the West African region in just eleven months, until recently. But what threat does the disease really pose?
The True Threat of Ebola
Liberia, the worst affected nation of the Ebola outbreak, has an estimated population of 4.09 million people. As of 23 October 2014 there have been 4,665 cases of the disease in the country. That is correct, just cases. The current outbreak has infected a mere 0.1 per cent of the population, a fact that may seem surprising to some. When we look past the World Health Organisation figures, which claim that the number infected has reached the ten-thousand mark, and actually examine the current outbreak,we find a disease which isn’t actually posing as serious a threat as its predecessor. And just to provide a little more perspective: the Black Death (1348-1350) allegedly killed 1.5 million people out of an estimated population of 4 million people in England alone. That equates to 37.5 per cent of the population of Medieval England dead within two years.
Interestingly, these two cases are very comparable. Both Liberia and Medieval England share similar population sizes (approximately four million people) and in neither of the countries did the diseases originate. However, the difference between the two figures is surprising. While 0.1 per cent of the Liberian population have been infected by the disease since the virus reached the country in July of this year, 37.5 per cent of the population of Medieval England’s population died from the Black Death in just two years. This would suggest, therefore, that the Ebola virus is not as threatening as other diseases that humanity has faced in the past, despite the overwhelming anxiety that surrounds it. That said, this does not mean that there are no risks that arise from the Ebola epidemic.
A Risk-Free Situation? Arguably, Ebola may be a somewhat exaggerated threat to the world, but this does not mean that the disease is no cause for concern; it does still pose a potential threat to our collective welfare as a species. We still do not possess an effective treatment method for Ebola that has a high enough success rate to be classed as a ‘cure’. Moreover, a vaccine to immunise individuals against this deadly virus still doesn’t exist, which is also a genuine worry (especially considering the 50-90 per cent mortality rate).
And then, from an international security perspective, there is also the risk of the Ebola virus being used as a biological weapon for terrorist purposes. Not only would it threaten our well-being, but there would be a risk of outbreak in the United Kingdom or other western countries that terrorist groups have targeted before.
Nevertheless, with regards to a cure for Ebola, the reality is that scientific investigations were not as heavily focused on the Ebola virus in the years prior to the 2014 outbreak as they were after the virus reached Liberia in mid-2014. The reason for this is the allegiance that the United States feel towards Liberia as a former colony of the American Colonisation Society for freed slaves. Consequently, ever since the disease reached Liberia in mid-2014, Harvard University’s Broad Institute began to sequence the genomes of multiple Ebola viruses by 28 August 2014 and the World Health Organisation announced that a vaccination is expected by 2015.
The aforementioned terrorist threat can be seen as a very real one, but not from Islamic State (IS). The reason for this is quite simple: IS have no effective means to transport the virus from West Africa to the UK or the US and, it would arguably act contrary to their interests. The jihadists’ primary concern is the development of a ‘neo-caliphate’ within the region of Iraq, Syria and the other regions surrounding these states using extremist methods. This therefore means that, while the US and UK foreign policies are a threat to IS, the terrorists are not prepared to begin extensive attacks on Euro-American soil. Whilst the brutal executions of aid workers and journalists are used as acts of terror against Britain and the US; they have not yet executed attacks within these countries and, in this way, IS can focus their forces on developing an Islamic State. Realistically, it seems there is no indication of a plan to infect Euro-American countries with the Ebola virus.
Should we truly fear Ebola?
The answer to this question is obviously not simple. Ebola does still pose a threat to our welfare but the severity of this threat is massively exaggerated due to the various inaccuracies that are being presented to the public. The most likely result of the Ebola outbreak is that a vaccine will soon be created to combat the virus and people will be able to be immunised from 2015 onwards. Ebola is infectious but, perhaps we should consider that it is not as infectious as the media have presented it to be.