Ebola: A Problem of Poverty Rather than Health

By David Orentlicher
[Cross-posted at Health Law Profs and PrawfsBlawg.]

Undoubtedly, the death toll in West Africa would be much lower if Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone had better health care systems or if an Ebola vaccine had been developed already. But as Fran Quigley has observed, Ebola is much more a problem of poverty than of health. Ebola has caused so much devastation because it emerged in countries ravaged by civil wars that disrupted economies and ecosystems.

Ultimately, this Ebola epidemic will be contained, and a vaccination will be developed to limit future outbreaks. But there are other lethal viruses in Africa, and more will emerge in the coming years. If we want to protect ourselves against the threat of deadly disease, we need to ensure that the international community builds functioning economies in the countries that lack them.

Our humanitarian impulses in the past have not been strong enough to provide for the needs of the impoverished across the globe. Perhaps now that our self-interest is at stake, we will do more to meet the challenge.


David Orentlicher, MD, JD, is the Judge Jack and Lulu Lehman Professor at UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, Director of the UNLV Health Law Program, and a Member of the Nevada Assembly.

0 thoughts to “Ebola: A Problem of Poverty Rather than Health”

  1. “… vaccination will be developed to limit future outbreaks …” That is still questionable. According to most reports, the Ebola virus group (for want of a better word) seems to contain the fastest mutating set of genes encountered so far in harmful viruses. So far, for all the billions spent, we have not yet found a way to combat HIV effectively and with Ebola having a reservoir outside the human population (e.g. bats, but even there we do not yet seem to know the full story!), we may always be fighting “yesteryear’s battle” for decades. And yes, poverty makes a difference, as rehydration may help individuals to survive long enough for their immune system to quell the intruders. However, long-term Ebola survivors often do not regain their full health or earning capacity and may overwhelm even the developed countries health systems if the exponential spread goes on a while longer!

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