Ebola has sparked fear and panic across much of the world, but the actual transmissibility of the deadly virus has been a bit overstated. That doesn’t mean that Ebola can’t kill nearly a million people, but it won’t do so in the way you’d think.
Every day brings a new headline about who may have been exposed to Ebola, who passed through what Ebola quarantines with no trouble, and how many people may have come into contact with the virus. Just this week, reports emerged that some researchers believe Ebola has the potential to go airborne, which could drastically increase its transmissibility.
Ebola isn’t airborne yet, so far as we know, even though it has the potential to spread in manners that were unanticipated. Ebola threatens to have a far more deadly side-effect than even if it was more easily spread: it threatens to starve three-quarters of a million people in West Africa.
In Ebola-quarantined areas in Sierra Leone, fields are going untended, and crops are going unreaped. That results in patchy food availability, leading people that are already living hand-to-mouth to search elsewhere for food. When they move to other places, they often take Ebola along with them, starting the cycle all over again.
This is the story in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, according to The Independent. In Monrovia, capital of Liberia, aid workers visited two children in an Ebola-quarantined area. The researchers could not bring the children with them upon leaving, and when they returned, they found the children dead. From starvation.
While Ebola has the potential to kill in the thousands or tens of thousands, its secondary effects ripple out even further. Orphans of the virus go without food and carry Ebola to other areas, or they simply die. Untended farms and unharvested crops lead to food prices spiraling out of control, which again perpetuates the cycle.
According to current projections, 10,000 people could contract Ebola in West Africa before Christmas. With a 70 percent mortality rate for Ebola in that area, that could mean 7,000 more dead and thousands more orphaned. Still, the total number of potential deaths due to starvation is 100 times that for Ebola.
Despite those numbers, governments are still focused primarily on stopping Ebola, and aid workers aren’t happy about that.
“The excuse is, ‘We’re focused on just stopping Ebola,'” said Tom Dannatt, founder and chief executive of Street Child, a children’s charity trying to feed children in affected areas. “I find it frustrating when people say the hungry will get through it. I wonder whether that division is an accurate one. If we made sure every quarantined family was fed a proper ration they wouldn’t break out and infect others.”
[Lead image via ABC News]