MSF On Ebola: “This Is The Biggest Outbreak We’ve Ever Known”

Priyanka Boghani | PBS Frontline | September 9, 2014

Researchers believe a 2-year-old boy who died last December in a village in Guinea, was the first casualty of West Africa’s ongoing Ebola outbreak.  Since then, Ebola has spread to the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. By September 8, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the virus had infected 4,290 people and killed 2,296 of them — figures that the organization earlier said might actually be “two to four times higher than that currently reported” in areas of high transmission. WHO warned that the epidemic could infect more than 20,000 people before it is contained.

Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as it is known internationally, began its Ebola intervention in March 2014, and now runs five Ebola management centers in the affected countries.  FRONTLINE spoke to Estrella Lasry, a tropical medicine adviser at MSF, who has managed previous infectious disease outbreaks in Africa, about why this one is so deadly, the challenges facing MSF’s field workers, and their efforts to train more health workers.  Why has this particular Ebola outbreak become the worst on record?

One of the reasons is Ebola was not known in this part of Africa so it took longer to identify as the cause than it usually would have. You see now what’s happened in [the Democratic Republic of] Congo, immediately the samples were sent to test for Ebola. Ebola is a known disease in that area. But it took longer for people to consult and to identify this as a potential infectious disease [in West Africa]...