As the Ebola crisis continues, many in the public health community have expressed a belief that this current outbreak is driven by an “evolution” of the virus that makes it easier to spread.
That does not seem to be the case. While numerous mutations have occurred in the virus there is no evidence that either its method of transmission or general mode of infection have changed at all. In fact, the current variety shows less variation from the past than do the changes in the flu virus from year to year. A recent study on changes in the Ebola virus since the current epidemic broke out found the virus is not evolving:
The majority of mutations either render the virus useless at doing its job, or have no effect. Its “job” being to make more copies of the virus and occasionally to infect another host.
So the mutations that do get passed on are usually the very few that succeed at improving the rate of virus replication, or the rate of infection. Exactly how many of the mutations alter the effectiveness of the virus at replicating and being transmitted, and how they do so, remains to be established.
If the virus is, as shown, unchanged in virulence and transmissability since it was first discovered, what, then accounts tor the number of cases as well as the divergent impacts depending upon the nation involved?
There is strong anecdotal evidence that the culprit is foreign aid.
Foreign aid has long been known to have a corrosive effect on the nations it is visited upon. Large influxes of free or very low cost food reduce local farmers to penury. Food, as we saw in Somalia in the late 1980s/early 1990s is used by warlords and rival militias to punish people trying to remain neutral in conflicts. Infusions of cash enrich the well connected, and real estate agents in Switzerland and southern France, while destroying fragile economies. While using it to buy influence with the regime du jour in various Third World crapholes has an upside, the most usual form it takes, particularly when the United States and its armada of non-profits swing into action, is one of allowing white liberals to do penance for being white and living in the United States. Or, as the Cato Institute study linked to above concludes:
Our foreign aid has made life more pleasant and entertaining for government bureaucrats in poor countries. However, it has done little to promote the production of wealth, or to breed political responsibility, or to encourage people to help themselves. American foreign aid usually only strengthens oppressive regimes, allows governments to avoid correcting their mistakes, and bails out bankrupt state-owned enterprises around the world.
Regardless of our future good intentions, American foreign aid programs will still be controlled by politicians anxious to buy goodwill and administered by bureaucrats anxious to meet their quota of loans, and they will still be received by foreign governments careless of the use of free gifts. As long as the same political, bureaucratic, and economic incentives govern international welfare, the same mistakes will be repeated.
There is no reason to think it will not have the same impact on public health. From a doctor serving on a religious mission in Liberia:
Losing a fight
Liberia is losing the fight against Ebola because they are depending on NGOs and an influx of Western money instead of traditional ways of dealing with epidemics. The first few Ebola epidemics were in remote villages where the villages touched by Ebola were self-quarantined according to ancient traditions of dealing with plagues. No one went in and out, and the surrounding communities brought them food. The caregivers washed themselves and their clothes rapidly and frequently after each contact with the patient, just using simple soap and water. Very few ever got sick, and the disease was controlled in a few months.
Here in Liberia, everyone is excited about the millions of US dollars being poured in to “fight Ebola,” and everyone wants a piece of the pie. A certain NGO out in rural Liberia quarantined a village, claiming they’d tested and found three cases. They applied for and received US$ 250,000 to fight Ebola in this village. They brought in a few sacks of rice and some chlorine. The villagers mobbed the trucks and carried off the plunder. And, miracle of miracles, not a single person died in the village.
Great effort at treating and controlling Ebola? Or pretending there’s Ebola in order to pocket some easy cash? I’ve never heard of a 0% fatality rate for Ebola, but you make the call.
Dozens of Land Cruisers
NGO’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to level earth with heavy equipment over a month in order to build tent cities capable of isolating and treating Ebola, but then not even giving them IV fluids or food, so that the Ebola patients sneak out of the tents and cross the street looking for food.
Dozens if not hundreds of US$70,000 Land Cruisers are taking foreigners around town to hotels, bars, clubs, and fancy guest houses so they can feel comfortable while they fight Ebola, and yet they can’t even collect the dead bodies that could expose so many more!
We’ve had bodies left for up to three days. Others have stayed in the open for up to five days before being collected. Patients are often turned away from the Ebola centers, and some have even refused to take anyone who doesn’t come in an ambulance. How many of the poor in West Point slum can afford an ambulance, even if there were enough available to take them?
As they say, the plural of anecdote is not data, but this rings true from what we know of the effects of huge infusions of foreign aid in response to emergencies. Traditional methods and systems are discarded, people become reliant upon others to do for them what they used to do for themselves, and the Obama-esque grifters you find in any political class get rich.
This is not a call to cut off aid to stricken countries but rather to apply the aid gently and reinforce the existing social structure so we don’t have to do this again next year or the year after.