How bad data fed the Ebola epidemic — Rachel Glennerster, Herbert M’cleod and Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

MIT Sloan Associate Prof. Tavneet Suri

From The New York Times

The West African Ebola outbreak first hit Sierra Leone in May 2014, followed by an explosion of cases in the capital Freetown in the autumn. The epidemic now counts more than 10,500 cases across Sierra Leone, with signs that the spread is slowing.

The early days of the crisis were characterized by a sense of immense fear, anxiety and alarm, regionally and globally. In Sierra Leone, a three-day, countrywide, military-led lockdown in September fed the fear in West Africa and beyond. Many flights originating in unaffected African countries were restricted. African students were prevented from attending some American schools, and there were countless reports of discrimination against Africans across the globe. Pictures of health workers in full protective suits became a ubiquitous symbol of the panic.

Misleading reports, speculation and poor projections from international agencies, government ministries and the media about the Ebola outbreak exacerbated the problem. The fear that was spread by the dramatic reports that accentuated the negative, undermined confidence, made it harder to encourage people to seek care, and misdirected attention away from Sierra Leone’s urban areas, where data suggest the economic effects of Ebola have been concentrated.

Valid, credible and timely data is essential during a global crisis. Without reliable data, efforts to assist affected people and to rebuild damaged communities can be misdirected and inefficient.

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Ebola: The dark side of globalization — Trond Undheim

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Trond Undheim

From Fortune

As upcoming goals, the United Nations should enact basic sanitation, healthcare and governance in failed or collapsing states not simply because of moral concerns, but because of our own safety concerns.

You would think we would have learned to deal with globalization by now. Goods, services, people, and money, and occasionally, diseases, flow across borders at a staggering pace. Little can stop these flows. Not walls. Not presidents. Not health authorities.

People, however, remain quite rooted in their local communities. So rooted that when a global health scare comes along, we only react when somebody we know, in our country, or somewhere we know well, is affected. Most people’s identity is local, not global, and not even international. Perhaps we should be glad. It gives focus. We attend to what is near. Perhaps, therefore, most of us underestimated Ebola. In Norway, nobody reacted when a nurse on volunteer duty in West Africa contracted the disease, but when she arrived in the nation’s capital for treatment, everyone noticed. In the U.S., nobody winked until a person died in Texas.

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How to Eradicate Ebola in 100 Days — Trond Undheim

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Trond Undheim

Stopping the spread of Ebola as quickly as possible is crucial. Several disjointed paths seem to be in motion, both regionally and globally. Last month’s Africa Summit in Washington DC touched on it but did not have all Ministers of Health present, and individual African countries have issued scattered curfews but no effective travel bans on citizens in affected areas. The WHO continues to issue warning statements of varying levels of severity, most recently with a casualty figure of 10,000 deaths, which may not impress those who realize that seasonal influenza kills scores more—so should we not worry, then? Meanwhile, many, especially in Africa, are looking to the WHO for more than predictive statistics. The WHOs recently published 26-page Ebola Response Roadmap makes but a small dent in this disease. Read More »