Ebola could spread again if we do not invest aid correctly, warns global health expert


Speaking at King’s College London, Dr Farmer said that without the right investment, ‘there’s no credible reason to believe these problems will not occur again.’ 

As co-founder of humanitarian group Partners in Health, Dr Farmer witnessed the impact of Ebola on the healthcare systems across West Africa, already frail prior to the epidemic, and now at a state of collapse. In the lecture, hosted at King’s as part of the Kapuscinski Development Lecture series, he stressed the importance of effective medical investment to prevent future deadly outbreaks and called for developed nations to not forget this, in the current state of post Ebola triumphalism. 

Dr Farmer said: ‘We cannot make the same mistakes as the past.  Our response to the epidemic was just too late. Efforts were hampered further by a lack of logistical support, medical equipment, facilities and staff. We need to ask ourselves, how can we help move forward this agenda of significant investments, in order to lessen the risk of spread?’

The answer, he said, comes in the form of significant investments in research, funding for local healthcare capacity and rapid diagnostics. ‘We need to integrate prevention in care to stop this from happening again. If all victims had access to Western level of care, fatality rates should be no more than 10 percent Instead, in some areas of the three heavily affected countries, they remain close to 70 percent.’ Dr Farmer praised the work of his colleagues, including Dr Oliver Johnson, Programme Director at the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, in their attempts to combat the spread of the epidemic, but said there is still more that can be done.

‘Ebola is the occasion to do the right thing. We need to ensure that modern medicine and Ebola collide. It’s not easy. But it’s not rocket science’, he said.

President & Principal of King’s Professor Ed Byrne AC said: ‘This has been a fascinating talk on an issue that continues to play a key role in the global health agenda. It is an absolute privilege on behalf of King’s College London to welcome Dr Paul Farmer. Not only is he one of the most distinguished people in the world today in international public health, but also one of the most inspirational figures in medicine.’

Dr Sridhar Venkatapuram, Director of the MSc in Global Health & Social Justice: ‘Dr Paul Farmer has worked tirelessly to extend his knowledge, expertise and resources to areas of the world where this is most needed. We hope to extend these values on to our students and continue to place global health as a focus here at King’s and in the Department of Social Science, Health & Medicine.’

The talk was delivered as part of the Kapuscinski Development Lecture series, and a video with the lecture can be accessed here: http://kapuscinskilectures.eu/lectures/failure-to-collide-ebola-and-modern-medicine/

Photograph credit: David Tett
King’s College London