February 26, 2024

The bright side of Ebola

Does Ebola have a silver lining? According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, 9,976 people have died of the disease since last March: 4,162 in Liberia; 3629 in Sierra Leone; 2170 in Guinea; 8 in Nigeria; 6 in Mali; and 1 in the United States.

It may seem cynical, but that single death in the US may be good news. For years, researchers have been studying Ebola, but it was only when some Americans became infected that the bells went off. The developed world realized that this ferocious killer could take root here, instead of over there somewhere. Interest rose exponentially.

Writing in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a researcher from the University of Kansas, A. Townsend Peterson, points out that scientific and pharmaceutical interest in West Nile virus only took off after it appeared in the US in 1999. Something similar is happening with Ebola.

“How many other neglected diseases must await this process of spread to affluent regions and infection of affluent people, making the transition from neglected tropical disease to emerging infection, before they also will see investment and innovation?” he asks.

Globalization has some unexpectedly positive spin-offs. 

Michael Cook
After 10,000 deaths, can there be a bright side?