Ebola “was an avoidable catastrophe”
CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Peter Piot, who co-discovered Ebola, about why this outbreak is so serious and how the world should respond.
Piot on the severity of the threat: ”This is the first Ebola epidemic where entire nations are involved, where big cities are affected. And I continue to be worried that the response to the epidemic is really running behind the virus. The virus is still running much faster.”
Piot on containing Ebola: “The good news is that both Nigeria and Senegal have been able to contain a number important cases. In Senegal, there was not even any secondary case. In Nigeria, there were a number of people who were infected and died, but it has not given rise to an outbreak in Lagos, after all, a city of more than 20 million people, or in Port Harcourt. So that’s a — that shows that if you act decisively and early enough, that this is, you know, it can be controlled. This was an avoidable catastrophe.”
A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: According to the World Health Organization, the number of known cases of Ebola in this current outbreak is swiftly approaching 10,000. But the WHO says that by the end of the year, there could be 10,000 new cases of Ebola each week.
And that’s just in the three hardest hit countries alone. These are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, all neighbors in West Africa.
That would mark a huge acceleration in the outbreak.
Is this a scare scenario or should we be worried?
My next guest is Dr. Peter Piot. He is a microbiologist who was one of the co-discoverers of the disease and a former undersecretary general of the United Nations.
When I first interviewed him this summer, he told me he thought we might have reached a turning point for the better. But he told “The Guardian” earlier this month that he now fears an unimaginable tragedy.
Welcome. Dr. Piot, explain what you worry about. Explain what that “Guardian” article was referring to.
PETER PIOT, EBOLA CO-DISCOVERER: What you’re seeing is unprecedented. This is the first Ebola epidemic where entire nations are involved, where big cities are affected. And I continue to be worried that the response to the epidemic is really running behind the virus. The virus is still running much faster. There are not enough beds to treat patients. And people continue to be infected.
ZAKARIA: But you worry about the fact that this could spread in the very large, very congested cities in Africa, for example, in Nigeria. And at that point, this could really spread like lightning.
PIOT: Well, first of all, the three countries that are affected are being totally destabilized, not only in terms of people who are killed by Ebola, their families, the orphans that now are coming up because the parents die, but the economy has come to a standstill.
People are massively dying from other diseases that are normally treatable, like malaria, or women die while giving birth because hospitals are abandoned or are full of – with Ebola patients.
So that is a very, very destabilizing factor. And that’s going to go in its impact beyond Ebola.
Now the big question will be, will this spread to surrounding countries?
The good news is that both Nigeria and Senegal have been able to contain a number important cases.
In Senegal, there was not even any secondary case. In Nigeria, there were a number of people who were infected and died, but it has not given rise to an outbreak in Lagos, after all, a city of more than 20 million people, or in Port Harcourt.
So that’s a — that shows that if you act decisively and early enough, that this is, you know, it can be controlled.
This was an avoidable catastrophe.
ZAKARIA: What is – what are the measures that need to be taken?
You say the virus is still running ahead of the response.
What is needed at this point?
PIOT: Well, first of all, something that we’ve learned through Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, and that is that – how to treat patients, to care for them and isolate them so that they don’t infect others, but also to reduce, more or less, mortality.
Secondly, we need to protect health care workers. We’ve seen it in the U.S. We’ve seen it in Europe. But above all, in Africa, where over 200 nurses and doctors and lab workers have died from Ebola. And that can be done by protective care.
But the biggest challenge, I think, for the future, is going to be stopping transmission in the community, because the number of beds that are now being built by the U.S. Army, by the U.K. Army, I mean they’re going to fulfill the needs, hopefully, for the – within the next few weeks.
But stopping transmission in the community around funerals, that is still going on. And so we have to change people’s behaviors and beliefs and also what to do with all the patients who are still at home, who can infect people while they’re being transported to hospital units.
So that’s going to be a massive undertaking of behavior change. And that will have to come from within.
ZAKARIA: What seems different this time around from, you know, 10 or 15 years ago is much more trade, much more travel, much more contact.
Is it something that the United States or Western Europe should worry about?
Are we overreacting or is it possible that the United States could see this disease spread through global travel and transport?
PIOT: Well, as long as there is a major epidemic in West Africa, the rest of the world is also at risk.
That is an additional reason for providing assistance to stop the epidemic.
And because there will be people who will, you know, show up, be it in Europe, in U.S. or in China. And there, the greatest risk, as we’ve already seen, is for the nurses, for the doctors, you know, who care for someone with Ebola virus infection and disease.
But I’m not worried about an epidemic in the larger population, because after all, in order to be infected with Ebola, you need really very close contact with someone who is sick, with their body fluids. And that’s a situation that you only have really in a hospital setting or care at home.
So there will be cases. I think we should not be naive about that. But I think it can be contained. And I also hope that the great media coverage that we are seeing now will make sure that people are aware how to protect themselves, how to, you know, alert the, you know, medical staff and so on when they think they are at risk.
ZAKARIA: Dr. Piot, a pleasure to have you on.
PIOT: Thank you very much.