Opinion: Learning From the Ebola Outbreak

The author in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. Photo courtesy of Logan Endow

I led the Ebola response in Liberia’s most violent city, West Point-Monrovia, and I wanted to share some mistakes of the global Ebola response that I’m urging leaders not to repeat here in Maryland.

Emergency COVID-19 funding must include subsidies for hazard pay and concrete guarantees of testing and treatment for all health care and frontline service workers. In Liberia, the Ebola mortality rate was 134 times higher for health care workers than the general population, and most outbreaks follow a similar pattern. Our frontline workers will be forced to work amidst a national shortage of protective equipment and inadequate infection prevention training. It would be inhumane not to provide these protections.

Epidemiological surveillance is nearly impossible due to the national shortage of test kits, but Maryland should be prepared for thousands of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks. We must be prepared to provide full financial/food sustenance for everyone quarantined for COVID-19. Liberia’s failure to do this led people to ignore the quarantine and catalyzed the Ebola epidemic. When testing becomes available, we must be prepared to field a large scale team of community health workers to detect cases.

We also must have a plan for the most at-risk populations; I’m particularly concerned about Maryland’s prisoners and our homeless community. When Ebola hit the most at-risk populations in Liberia, our already-stretched treatment centers could not cope with patients’ health/mental health complications and it almost broke our response. COVID-19 has already reached  Rikers Island prison in New York, and we’re only a week behind them in the epidemiological curve. It is critical for us to reduce the population of our correctional facilities safely and implement emergency right to shelter legislation for our homeless population.

Maryland will have to increase COVID-19 emergency funding by orders of magnitude to fund the health care response and provide relief to our working families who will see a spike in financial hardship and deaths of despair. It will be critical to have a well-thought-out relief plan.

— LOGAN ENDOW

The writer, a Democrat, is a candidate for the Baltimore City Council in the 4th District.