The End of Ebola? Lessons at the Epidemic’s One Year Anniversary

“That’s the anthrax building,” a colleague told me several years ago, pointing to a squat reddish-brown brick building in the middle of Fort Detrick, for many years the U.S. Army’s center for biological warfare research. Cinderblocks now sealed up all of the doors and windows. Inside, anthrax — a deadly pathogen — still lurks. Outside, we are generally spared. For years, the U.S. had developed stores of anthrax spores as biological warfare, but destroyed these in 1969. Yet after 9/11, someone sent letters containing the pathogen to various journalists and senators. Many observers feel that the culprit remains unknown.

This building sits as a silent testimony to the history of dangerous pathogens and their possible, though fragile containment.

In recent days, as the one year anniversary of the first announcement of Ebola has approached, and this outbreak has diminished — some say the end is very near — I have been thinking of this building.

One year ago, the current Ebola epidemic was announced to the world. Since then, we have learned and accomplished an enormous amount. The U.S., Western Europe and China worked together to address and curtail the threat, and scientists discovered that a new drug, favipiravir, shows promise. These are important achievements.

But there are also critical lessons to be learned. Major gaps emerged in world responses to the disease, and profound questions remain. This was at least the 23rd outbreak of Ebola, since the first one was documented in 1976. More may occur. This outbreak was the largest recorded, for reasons that we still do not entirely understand. Moreover, as the world becomes ever-more interconnected, infectious diseases that pop up in one corner of —> Read More