The Ebola outbreak, which public health officials privately fret could turn into a global pandemic, carries with it a quiet riddle: while West Africa ineptly focuses on prevention, virtually no one has focused on care.
Or to put it mathematically, the fatality rate from Ebola, historically near 90%, sits closer to 50% during this outbreak (4,366 cases, 2,218 deaths), despite the fact that the facilities in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries affected remain appalling. What would the true rate be if victims were treated under western standards? And the larger ramifications if Ebola was no longer viewed as an automatic death sentence?
“There’s never been a connection between Ebola and first-rate medical care,” says Paul Farmer, the renowned co-founder of Partners in Health, before pointing out that none of the health care workers flown back to the U.S. for treatment have died. Could the answer to the outbreak lie in the care regiment for those afflicted?
We’ll soon find out. Farmer landed in Liberia this morning, at the center of a coalition quietly formed to specifically – and quickly – test that thesis. In the next few weeks, the Farmer group will open a top-notch treatment facility in one of Liberia’s most rural provinces, along with strategies designed to maximize its effectiveness.
“This has been coming together for years,” Farmer tells Forbes, a few hours before departing on the trip. “The Ebola crisis pushed it over the edge.”