The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is not the first Ebola outbreak the world has seen, but it has been the widest spreading and the deadliest. In the past, outbreaks have burned out quickly, but the current Ebola outbreak is spreading with a rapidness that some are calling an international crisis.
And the reason for that is our improved logistics system.
The Spread of Ebola
With faster, increased travel between communities and countries, Ebola has been able to spread quickly. CTV has created a timeline of the progress of the disease. Here are the key dates that illustrate how Ebola has spread:
March 23rd: Ebola is confirmed in Guinea
March 28th: The disease spreads from a remote area of Guinea to the capital
March 30th: Ebola is reported in Liberia
May 30th: Sierra Leone reports deaths from Ebola within their borders
July 25th: Ebola reaches Nigeria
Aug 29th: The outbreak expands to Senegal
Note: Ebola has also been reported in the Congo, but this appears to be a separate case and is not due to spread from West Africa.
The patient who brought Ebola to Nigeria nearly brought it to the United States as well. He was planning to fly to Minnesota to visit his wife and children. The severe, quickly acting symptoms are what make the disease so deadly, but also what prevent it from spreading more quickly; the man was quarantined and soon died before he was able to leave Nigeria.
The Role of Logistics in Stopping Ebola
At a glance, it would seem that travel restrictions would be the best way to contain Ebola, which several countries and carriers have initiated. The CDC has declared a Warning, Level 3 travel notice for travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. A Warning Level 3 advises Americans to avoid any unnecessary travel to these countries. The CDC has also declared an Alert, Level 2 travel notice for Nigeria and the Congo, meaning that travelers should take extra precautions if traveling to these countries. British Airways, Kenya Airways, Arik Air, and African airlines ASKY have stopped flights to Ebola stricken regions.
However, there is a delicate balance between restricting travel enough to stop the spread of Ebola, and restricting travel so much that supplies and medical personnel cannot be shipped in – thus making the outbreak worse. The WHO has already had difficulties travelling to and from affected regions, and they report that further restrictions could create a “humanitarian emergency”.
For these reasons, it is crucial that airlines and other carriers cooperate with health officials to limit the spread of the disease while continuing to provide transit for medical personnel, food, fuel, and other essentials.
Another important area of logistics with regard to Ebola is the transport of vaccines. In fact, Winnipeg, Canada developed an experimental Ebola vaccine and offered to donate it to the WHO. However, weeks after offering the vaccines, they were still stuck in Canada due to logistics problems.
Transporting a vaccine is challenging. One of the issues is that the vaccine must be kept at a cold enough temperature to keep its effectiveness. This can be especially difficult when transporting the vaccines to areas with underdeveloped or unreliable supply chains and storage facilities.
Overall, the international supply chain will continue to play an important role alongside health care officials in stopping the spread of the Ebola outbreak, as well as transporting vital people, supplies, and vaccines to aid in recovery.