Plagues on the Poor: What Ebola Can Learn From Malaria

Friday, October 3, 2014

If the U.S. spent more money on disease prevention and clinics—and less on vaccines and drugs—everyone in the world would stand to benefit

Our highest ranked public health officials have answered questions about Ebola. Most come from reporters centering on who dropped the ball, and why no treatment exists. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has tried to give the real answer: Don’t blame a lack of drugs, or bad practices at the World Health Organization; blame the absolute lack of good public health for people in poor countries.

Famous experts, ranging from Paul Farmer to Jeffery Sachs, have tried to use reason to show why investments in clinics go further to stop diseases like Ebola than do investments in vaccines and drugs. Their arguments are simple: build clinics and train medical staff to care for people, and they will be competent to tackle whatever problems emerge. (The teach-a-man-to-fish argument.) If such a clinic existed in the rural village in Guinea where the current outbreak’s original case of Ebola broke, its staff could have advised the community on how to contain the infection. That didn’t happen, and now the CDC is predicting a million infections by January.

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Health Care
infectious diseases, public health