Things have changed since the early days of the latest Ebola outbreak, largely getting worse -- but there are glimmers of hope.
While medical support has become more focused, it may not be effective or timely enough to avert an even greater disaster. Also, areas of quarantine, travel restrictions, and diverted resources have created secondary emergencies that are not getting as much attention.
Back in the summer, the Ebola outbreak was a distant problem in three developing African nations. About 900 people had died at that time, and there were an estimated 2,000 cases in total. Today, those number are still hard to state exactly, but they have grown exponentially. Some estimates show Ebola incidence rates up tenfold and mortality rates up fivefold since August.
Meanwhile, the disease has spread to two more African countries and has started showing up in Europe. In addition, we have had both imported and home-contracted cases in the United States. This has made it our problem, too, stirring fear in the media and on Capitol Hill. Although transmission is impossible without direct contact with infected bodily fluids, people may reasonably be worrying about Ebola when in airports, in crowds, or on public transportation.
There is good news in that people who have early access to modern medical care are in some cases being cured. The international community has mobilized. Containment has also been improving in Africa, and the U.S. has started testing at airports, so the spread appears to be slowing. U.S. military personnel have been deployed to help, President Obama has assigned an "Ebola czar," and the push for a vaccine is intense.
But let's not go straight from terror to denial.
After all, we don't even know how many cases of Ebola there are, let alone how many there might be in the near future. International organizations have designed for a capacity based on limited knowledge; if their predictions are wrong, those planned medical facilities and public health efforts may be overwhelmed. And while everyone is trying to contain and combat Ebola, whole regions of West Africa are trying to manage with no native medical infrastructure and a lot of sick people who are isolated from traditional sources of food and other resources.
The organizations fighting Ebola are still in serious need of aid, though their needs are changing as the fight wears on. That's where you come in.
The USAID Center for International Disaster Information has published a useful list of nongovernmental organizations that are working on the Ebola outbreak. You will notice that this list includes a lot of organizations whose scope is well beyond public health. There are peace, children's, and food charities included. They are working to alleviate the horrific secondary effects of the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Do your research to make secure donations with reputable organizations, and don't let scam artists posing as representatives of Ebola-related charities take advantage of you. Yes, the Ebola outbreak has even attracted swindlers. Don't let that stop you from giving generously -- and doing it now, when your generosity is most needed.