Free Markets, Free People

Meanwhile in Africa

Ebola continues to ravage the western part of the continent:

Yet another set of ominous projections about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was released Tuesday, in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gave worst- and best-case estimates for Liberia and Sierra Leone based on computer modeling.

In the worst-case scenario, Liberia and Sierra Leone could have 21,000 cases of Ebola by Sept. 30 and 1.4 million cases by Jan. 20 if the disease keeps spreading without effective methods to contain it. These figures take into account the fact that many cases go undetected, and estimate that there are actually 2.5 times as many as reported.

If that’s the case, then containment would seem all but impossible.

However, if it is able to be contained and everything goes to plan, there is a “best case” scenario:

In the best-case model — which assumes that the dead are buried safely and that 70 percent of patients are treated in settings that reduce the risk of transmission — the epidemic in both countries would be “almost ended” by Jan. 20, the report said. It showed the proportion of patients now in such settings as about 18 percent in Liberia and 40 percent in Sierra Leone.

Unfortunately, best case scenarios rarely if ever come to pass.  They assume too much goes well with “the plan”, communication, cooperation, behavior and many other human activities, and rule out people acting on misinformation and self-interest contrary to the “best case” scenario’s plan.  That’s not to say epidemic can’t eventually be contained … or burn itself out.  It’s to say betting on the “best case” scenario puts you at odds with human nature.

There’s another reason not to expect the “best case” scenario.  The agencies who are spouting all the stats really don’t know the actual extent of the outbreak:

The World Health Organization acknowledged weeks ago that despite its efforts to tally the thousands of cases in the region, the official statistics probably “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.”


The report does not include figures for Guinea because case counts there have gone up and down in ways that cannot be reliably modeled.

The point?  We’re going to hear a lot of happy talk about how the world’s effort is going to contain this outbreak and, at least for a while, they’re going to point toward the best case scenario as their goal.  And it is a worthy goal.  But you have to remember that as with many government or quasi-government bureaucracies, their worth is measured in how successful they are – or report they are.  It’s how they receive funds.  So the propensity is to “happy talk” and favorable stats.  And, as we’ve all learned with “climate change”, models can be monkeyed with.

As an example of why the best case scenario is unlikely, the plan for containment relies on “effective methods” to contain it – such as treatment centers  where patients go and allow the problem to be isolated.  But in reality, there aren’t enough beds to do that:

At least one aid group working in Liberia is already shifting its focus to teaching people about home care and providing materials to help. Ken Isaacs, a vice president of the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, said, “I believe inevitably this is going to move into people’s houses, and the notion of home-based care has to play a more prominent role.” He said there could be 100,000 or more cases by the end of 2014.

“Where are they going to go?” Mr. Isaacs asked. “It’s too late. Nobody’s going to build 100,000 beds.”

He’s right. And so isolation, a key portion of “the plan”, is put in severe jeopardy.

Key take away?  Beware of all the happy talk.  This isn’t a time for propaganda and misleading stats.  But we are dealing with bureaucracies, spokespersons and the like.  This is a time for honest, above-board information so the public can stay informed about something that could threaten their lives.

Let’s see what we actually get.


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8 Responses to Meanwhile in Africa

  • Gods of the copybook headings times.
    Can’t happen…because we’re so advanced you see, and it’s the 21st century.
    In reality – this is going to get medieval, with all the bells, lights and whistles and flags.

    • And the hand carts …don’t forget to hand carts

      • … I was SUPPOSED to think of Monty Python here, wasn’t I?

        Or else the little skit “- but I’m NOT DEAD” / “But you WILL be” running through my head proves what a depraved, indifferent wretch I truly am . .

        • At least your taking it seriously enough to feel that way.
          I don’t think a lot of the alleged experts are.
          This has a surreal feeling of “we can manage this” that pervades the actions of those in charge.
          I don’t think they truly grasp it because unless I’m forgetting something, some incident or outbreak, they’ve never dealt with anything like this except in simulations and drills in their lifetimes.

          • The various plagues still exist. And they break out periodically in parts of the world. But the bubonic plague is a mild bacterial bug, easy to kill with antibiotics compared to this one. And this virus mutates in ways that are horrific.

          • I’m thinking scope on this one, and as you point out, no ready vaccine and a short incubation period.
            To say nothing of the mutation potential, airborne Ebola?, swell.
            My brain is replaying the movie reel of deathcamp cleanups and the poor Tommy who had to drive the bulldozer.

    • According to the quote at least one guy, Ken Isaacs, seems to get the idea.

      Perhaps there will be a revival of those quaint little customs like covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, not spitting in the street, etc. Maybe the word ‘quarantine’ will again become common.

  • I’m expecting an ISIS type to go “help” over there any day now.