O’Neill Institute Convenes Experts to Discuss Ebola Epidemic

September 4, 2014 —

The Ebola epidemic now rapidly spreading in West Africa is “one of the great humanitarian tragedies” of our time, said University Professor Lawrence O. Gostin at a roundtable discussion of the crisis on Wednesday, September 3, at Georgetown Law. The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law hosted the event — which was covered by C-SPAN — as part of its fall colloquium.

Gostin, who served as moderator along with John Monahan, special adviser to the Georgetown University president on global health, began with an update on the disease, which is now in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. “This has been the perfect storm because Ebola … has engulfed the region, which has two post-conflict states [and] very fragile health systems,” Gostin said, noting that the international response has fallen far short of what is needed. 

(A comment in The Lancet by Gostin this week calls for an international health systems fund for crisis response and for building strong health systems; in the article, he argues that the Ebola tragedy did not have to happen and that we can prevent the next one by building health system capabilities in poorer countries. To view the press release, click here.)

Adjunct Professor Dan Lucey of Georgetown University Medical Center, who just returned from Sierra Leone, described his work there evaluating patients in an Ebola testing center in Freetown and helping train 160 doctors and nurses in the proper use of protective equipment. As the epidemic spreads into urban areas, it will require new drugs and vaccines to halt its spread, he said. 

Speaking on the characteristics of the disease, Marty Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted not only its concentration in areas of profound poverty but also the fear and stigma that thwarts efforts to bring it under control. “The virus is winning this battle. … This is going to require a coordinated, international, all-hands-on-deck … response,” he said. 

J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies called the outbreak “a multidimensional security crisis” that world leaders have not yet recognized as such. While official estimates hover around 3,000 cases and 1,500 dead, actual numbers could be two to four times that many. “It’s totally plausible to see this as going to 40 or 50 or 100 thousand or beyond,” Morrison said. 

Kevin Donovan, director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, noted such critical ethical issues as whether to provide treatments not yet tested in humans and how to allocate scarce medicines should they become available. The development of Ebola treatments is still a small and unpredictable market for pharmaceutical companies, he noted. “If this epidemic were happening in any place else than in the poorest countries in West Africa,” Donovan said, “we would be seeing the attention that … should have been given to this a long time ago.” 

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor remarked at the outset that the roundtable discussion “epitomizes the mission” of the O’Neill Institute, which has been at the forefront of policy, ethical and legal issues relating to the Ebola epidemic. “This is Georgetown Law and the O’Neill Institute’s convening power at its finest,” he said.

To view C-SPAN coverage, click here. 


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