Mysterious and deadly, Ebola reaches far beyond Africa

opinion August 08, 2014 01:00

By Thanong Khanthong

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The death toll from the latest outbreak of Ebola now stands at 932, with more than 1,700 cases reported. This reflects the high mortality rate of a deadly virus that has resurfaced in most serious epidemic of its kind in recorded history.

The World Health Organisation reports that over the past two days, the rates of Ebola deaths and cases have exploded by 48 and 108 times respectively – evidence that the growth of the epidemic in West Africa is becoming exponential. Nigeria is the latest to ask for drugs from the US to treat the disease. And now Ebola has claimed the life of a person in Saudi Arabia.
That Ebola is something the whole world should be concerned about is no longer in doubt. Now, the challenge is to forge collective measures to prevent its spread. Mystery still surrounds the deadly virus. Is it curable? Is there a drug to treat it? Is there a vaccine to prevent it?
Some reports suggest the pharmaceutical industry is not interested in producing drugs to fight Ebola because the virus only affects Africans. 
The epicentre of the latest outbreak is Western Africa, with the majority of cases discovered in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Western researchers have been working on Ebola for decades. The question is, how did this outbreak – which threatens to go global – happen this time.
Many of us will recall a 1995 film titled “Outbreak”, starring Dustin Hoffman. It depicted an epidemic of a virus similar to Ebola, which spread from Zaire to America. Dramas like these are supposed to tell fictitious stories. But as it turned out, a couple of months later, an Ebola outbreak did take place in Zaire, warranting a front-cover story in the Newsweek edition of May 1995.
Last month, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone issued a statement via Facebook that researchers from Tulane University had been asked to “stop Ebola testing during the current Ebola outbreak”. What does this mean? Tulane University has been a centre of Ebola research for at least a decade. Scientists there are looking into fever viruses’ potential as bioweapons. Now, suddenly, we have an unexplained outbreak of Ebola in the outside world.
At the same time, the Navy Times in the US reports that the US military has been interested in studying Ebola as a potential biological weapon for decades: “Filoviruses like Ebola have been of interest to the Pentagon since the late 1970s mainly because Ebola and its fellow viruses have high mortality rates – in the current outbreak, roughly 60 per cent to 72 per cent of those who have contracted the disease have died – and its stable nature in aerosol makes it attractive as a potential biological weapon.”
Even more bizarre is the fact that the US Centre for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) actually owns the patent on a strain of Ebola virus. The patent, known as Ebobun and numbered CA2741523A1, was awarded to the centre in 2010. The question is, why is the CDC in the business of owning an Ebola virus?
President Obama has signed an executive order to allow health officials in the US to deal with the Ebola epidemic decisively by holding those suspected of having contracted the virus at detention centres. 
Is the Ebola epidemic for real? It seems so.