The West African Ebola crisis of 2014/16: 2020 hindsight
A lecture for the Australian Institute of International Affairs by Stephen Cordner
Professor Emeritus, Department of Forensic Medicine, Monash University Consultant Forensic Specialist, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased public awareness of infectious disease, epidemics and their consequences. This talk by internationally recognised forensic pathology specialist, Professor Stephen Cordner, will discuss the 2014/16 West African Ebola crisis from the vantage point of our experience so far with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus causing the illness COVID-19.
Unprotected handling of the dead, including by the population carrying out their local funerary practices, was one of the main modes of transmission of Ebola Virus Disease. The other was direct contact with the biological fluids of infected individuals. The latter meant that health care workers on the front line were very much in harm’s way. More than 500 health care workers died during the crisis, including 14 from Médecins Sans Frontières. This sacrifice has been insufficiently recognised.
On 8 August 2014, the WHO declared the West African Ebola outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern”. An emergency UN Security Council meeting was held on 18 September 2014 – the first such meeting devoted to a health issue, the Ebola epidemic. Resolution 2177 (2014) unanimously declared the epidemic a threat to international peace and security.
The following day, all 193 members of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution (69/1) on measures to contain and combat the epidemic, jointly sponsored by 134 members – the greatest number to ever co-sponsor a motion in the history of the United Nations. By the time the crisis had ended (officially in March 2016), more than 11,000 of an estimated 28,000 people infected had died.