Friday, September 19, 2014

Global Threats

For the first time ever, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) met to deal with a public health crisis. They ultimately declared the Ebola outbreak to be a “threat to international peace and stability” and the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution urging all countries to do more to control and contain the spread of Ebola, which is overwhelming West Africa. The situation appears so dire, that the Liberian Defense Minister told the UN his country’s very existence is threatened by Ebola.

The first documented case was in December of last year and since then, the world has seen the largest Ebola outbreak in history. According to the World Health Organization, more than 5,000 cases have been reported and the fatality rate is at or above 50%. Although more than 40 previous outbreaks have been recorded, they were all small, isolated, quickly controlled and in remote areas, mostly in Central Africa.

Although there has been concern about the disease, the world seemed unprepared to address such an unprecedented Ebola outbreak. Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN said, “words are meaningless, unless the words today turn into concrete commitments” CDC, USAID, and up to 3,000 U.S. troops are all working to combat this disease, yet criticism and blame is still to be found. Doctors Without Borders has declared that the lack of response in general, and from the U.S., is “incomprehensible.” America has already committed $175 million, with another $88 million requested. Additionally, the Department of Defense intends to spend $500 million in an effort to assist with treatment facilities and supplies. However, the UN says $1 billion is needed simply to bring this outbreak under control. The UNSC heard reports indicating that the international response needed to increase by 20 fold in order to adequately address the disease.

Human trials for an Ebola vaccine are beginning, and 10,000 doses of the currently untested vaccine are already being manufactured but it will be another two to three months before any vaccine will be ready, and even if the vaccine works, there will not be enough vaccines to stop the spread of Ebola.

In the meantime, Sierra Leone ordered a three day quarantine nationwide, with the hope that volunteers will be able to go to each home and talk with residents about the disease, risks, preventive measures, and treatment. However, it is unlikely that this will be enough to contain the spread of Ebola in both the region and the world. If this disease continues to spiral out of control, it will only continue to cross borders and infiltrate other countries and even regions in the world. A disease knows no borders and President Obama and the UNSC have publicly recognized the impact that such an outbreak will have on the international community. The political, economic, and security implications will be widespread. The countries hardest hit are poor and lack proper infrastructure to deal with such a crisis and as people start to panic or act out of fear, social conditions may deteriorate even more. As the Director-General of WHO put it, a health crisis like this has a "magnitude of cascading consequences."

In a speech that he gave on Tuesday, President Obama summed up the threat saying, "This is an epidemic that is not just a threat to regional security. Its a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic...That has profound affects on all of us even if we are not directly contracting the disease." As countries and economies become more and more intertwined, events in one place can have a profound impact on others, regardless of geographic distance. It is within America's interest to actively participate in efforts to combat this threat.

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