Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy (Sean Gallup/Getty Images for Siemens):
Last week, my brilliant Council on Foreign Relations colleague John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, warned that spread of the virus inside Lagos — which has a population of 22 million — would instantly transform this situation into a worldwide crisis, thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous, oil-rich nation. Add to the Nigerian scenario civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors' strike — all of which are real and current — and you have a scenario so overwrought and frightening that I could not have concocted it even when I advised screenwriter Scott Burnson his Contagion script.
Inside the United States, politicians, gadflies, and much of the media are focused on wildly experimental drugs and vaccines, and equally wild notions of “keeping the virus out” by barring travelers and “screening at airports.”
Let's be clear: Absolutely no drug or vaccine has been proven effective against the Ebola virus in human beings. To date, only one person — Dr. Kent Brantly — has apparentlyrecovered after receiving one of the three prominent putative drugs, and there is no proof that the drug was key to his improvement. None of the potential vaccines has even undergone Phase One safety trials in humans, though at least two are scheduled to enter that stage before December of this year. And Phase One is the swiftest, easiest part of new vaccine trials — the two stages of clinical trials aimed at proving that vaccines actually work will be difficult, if not impossible, to ethically and safely execute. If one of the vaccines is ready to be used in Africa sometime in 2015, the measure will be executed without prior evidence that it can work, which in turn will require massive public education to ensure that people who receive the vaccination do not change their behaviors in ways that might put them in contract with Ebola — because they mistakenly believe they are immune to the virus.
We are in for a very long haul with this extremely deadly disease — it has killed more than 50 percent of those laboratory-confirmed infections, and possibly more than 70 percent of the infected populations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Nigeria is struggling to ensure that no secondary spread of Ebola comes from one of the people already infected by Liberian traveler Patrick Sawyer — two of whom have died so far.