Ebola Outbreak Slows in West Africa, Leaving U.S.-Built Treatment Centers Empty

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Photo: ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images

It looks like U.S. government money is going to waste in West Africa, but that’s good news, considering the alternative. The Washington Post reports that several of the Ebola treatment centers built by the 3,000 U.S. troops sent to the region this fall never admitted a single patient infected with the virus. Plans for 17 Ebola centers were made in September, when the CDC predicted that the disease could spread to 1.4 million people by January. However, as international help began to arrive in West Africa, the epidemic slowed considerably. David Nabarro, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy on Ebola, said that in August ill people were being turned away because there were only 350 beds in Ebola treatment centers. By mid-December there were 2,000 beds and not enough patients to fill them.

Since the outbreak began in December 2013, Ebola has infected more than 21,000 people in eight countries and killed 8,468, according to World Health Organization data collected January 16. Thanks to efforts to isolate and treat Ebola victims, the infection rate has dropped drastically. More than 3,500 of the dead were from Liberia, and at the height of the epidemic the nation reported more than 300 cases per week. The Liberian government said last week that as of January 12 they had only ten confirmed Ebola cases.

Critics say that the empty facilities show that foreign nations should have come to West Africa’s aid much sooner. “If they had been built when we needed them, it wouldn’t have been too much,” Moses Massaquoi, the Liberian government’s chairman for Ebola case management, told the Post. “But they were too late.”

Regardless of whether they should have intervened sooner, U.S. officials say their plans were appropriate based on what experts were predicting in September. The military nixed plans for 2 of the 17 treatment centers as the outbreak began to taper off, and the remaining 15 may still be needed. The United Nations said last week that the epidemic now consists of several micro-outbreaks, Bloomberg News reports. “Many deaths are still unreported, and communities in some areas are still reluctant to adopt safe burial practices or seek treatment,” Nabarro said. “The virus is lurking close by and in coming months it may make a comeback if we become complacent and let down our guard.”