By Aroun R Deen. New York. Jan. 01, 2015 – The United Nations must investigation the cause for the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which has killed thousands of people, mainly in the three most affected countries in the region. A comprehensive independent investigation into the sudden outbreak of the disease will provide some answers on whether the outbreak was of natural cause or, the outcome of some clandestine biological research program. Regardless of what caused it, the findings will also enhance recurrence prevention measures not just in West Africa but throughout the continent.
ECOWAS, the West African regional body, and the African Union, the continental intergovernmental organization also must each conduct its own separate independent investigation.
Extreme weather developments, changes in ecosystems and events of human demographics are some of the known causes responsible for the emergence of known or unknown infectious diseases. Also, devious human behaviors such as secretive and rogue biological research experimentations have led to large scale infections and deaths of vulnerable populations. History is awash with such inhumane and egregious experimentation incidents. The current epidemic may not be an exception.
In Factors in the Emergence of Infectious Diseases, Stephen S. Morse, Director, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Certificate program at Columbia University in New York city, states that: “Most emerging infections appear to be caused by pathogens already present in the environment, brought out of obscurity or given a selective advantage by changing conditions and afforded an opportunity to infect new host populations…”
However, it is not yet known if at all, any of the above mentioned factors is responsible for the current outbreak in West Africa. Nor, has any scientifically proven reason given for it. Instead, some experts are pushing forward the assumption that the epidemic was begun by fruit bats and monkeys.
The Atlantic magazine online reporting, (July 29, 2014) on Where Does Ebola Come from? states that past outbreaks of the virus have been linked to people hunting gorillas and chimps for food. “There are no gorillas in West Africa, so specialists think this outbreak is linked to fruit bats.” The thinking of “specialists” in this regard is an assumption and must not be taken as the true cause for the outbreak.
Daniel Bausch, Ebola expert at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, said Ebola doesn’t really compare with the number of cases of HIV, TB, malaria and other diseases on a daily basis. The virologist was speaking in an interview with Scientific American. Asked why Ebola wasn’t seen coming in West Africa, he said: “We really had in our minds that Ebola is the sort of disease that appears sporadically in remote regions of Africa and causes extreme tragedy for those populations but not really something that we need to have on our radar in the bigger picture.” His interview, titled How Ebola Strains West Africa’s Infrastructure was published online on November 7.
Notwithstanding his expertise on Ebola, what Daniel Bausch and others had in their minds that Ebola is a disease that “appears sporadically” in remote regions of Africa and causes extreme tragedy, as is the case now, is not in any way a scientifically proven conclusion on this current outbreak in West Africa. The truth behind the emergence of this disease needs to be fairly investigated and the findings, made public. It should not be based on the assumptions of anyone, specialist or not.
Some people in the affected countries are of the belief that this Ebola is the product of some illegal biological experiment exercise carried out somewhere around the border areas of at least one of the three badly affected countries by some unknown persons from abroad, in collaboration with some local public officials.
In Sierra Leone there is a common belief that people in those communities where the epidemic started were tricked into believing they were being offered free treatments for whatever medical problems some of them thought they had, when in fact they were being used as research elements without their due consents. This claim is bolstered by a plethora of conspiracy theories on social networks.
This too, so far, remains a speculation just as is the fruit bat assumption and the sporadic-appearance-thinking of Daniel Busch and his others.
The Ebola in West Africa is of a different strain from those which occurred in Uganda and DR Congo (Zaire) years ago. So the West African plague cannot now be blamed on transmissions from that part of the continent.
An independent investigation into what led to the West Africa Ebola outbreak will be beneficial to the world. It will bring about the exact factors responsible. It also will enhance efforts to contain the current outbreak from spreading further in the region, and beyond. Governments and health institutions in Africa will be better informed on how to prevent, prepare or respond should any such infectious disease occurs, or resurfaces anywhere in the continent. If on the other hand it is caused by some secretive biological experimentation program, an investigation will help identify those responsible.
The United Nations, Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) and other humanitarian organizations and individual countries have invested a lot in combating the disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in particular. That’s indeed a show of humanity. They too deserve much more than mere speculation for an answer, at the least for the human and material resources that they have invested.
Since its occurrence in less than a year ago the killer disease has claimed the lives of close to seven thousand people. This clearly shows that Ebola is a threat to humanity everywhere. It is therefore the right of people, particularly in the affected countries to know about the cause responsible for its sudden outbreak. They should not be fooled into accepting what others want them to believe.
Within weeks into news of the outbreak, the United States government held at least two congressional hearings on how the federal government should respond to the disease. That’s a show of responsible leadership and good governance. The governments of all three badly affected countries must also push for such investigations. They must also fully cooperate when such investigations are going on. They owe it to their people to ensure that the truth surrounding this outbreak is known.
The findings of Dr. Stephen S. Morse are the outcome of lengthy research work. They are not based on foolish speculations and assumptions. To continue to put forward the fruit bat and monkey, and any other unfounded assumption for whatever reason is a disservice to the memories of the thousands in particular who have died of the disease, and the countries in general, that have been ravaged – economically and socially – by it.
Even if fruit bats and other agents had played a part in spreading the disease, the cause that led to those agents getting infected with the virus in the first place, needs to be known.
In a situation in which so many lives have been lost and so much damage done to the economic, social and even to the image of persons of West Africa, everywhere, such speculations give room for suspicion of foul play. What need to be done urgently are fair and independent investigations that will bring about the reasons responsible for the outbreak of the epidemic in West Africa. It should the based on clear scientific conclusions. Such an effort is justifying, and deserving of the dead and affected.
Failing to thoroughly investigate will be a travesty of moral and ethical responsibility and a disregard of the duties bestowed on the leaderships in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, as well as on the UN, the AU and ECOWAS, to uphold human rights.
Aroun Rashid Deen is a contributing writer. He lives in New York City.