Ebola and the Flu (2 Responses)

Recently, at the state house, Senate President Murray hosted a conference on health care information systems. A highlight of the conference was a talk by Dr. Mike Wong about the Ebola epidemic and the information we have about it.

I’ve attached the very detailed powerpoint from the talk here. It gives a lot of background on the epidemic and many glimmers of hope for cure or vaccines.

For me, the most stunning point was that there are roughly 100 times as many health care workers per capita in the United States as in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Those countries are fighting the scariest epidemic in the world with a health care army that is simply tiny.  The tragic deaths of health care workers on the front lines are weakening a system that was paper thin to start with.  The following statistics are cobbled together from those offered in the presentation and directly from the sources cited in the presentation — the CIA’s World Factbook and the World Health Organization’s Country Profiles. Additional health care workforce statistics appear further below.

 Physicians Per 100,000 populationAbsolute Number of PhysiciansAll health care workers per 100,000 populationTotal PopulationHealth Care Spending Per Capita
Guinea (2004)
11,451,000No Data
Liberia (2008)1.45147.6
Sierra Leone (2010)2.2
United States (2000)256730,8014,361319,052,9688,895

Lack of good health care information allowed national and international authorities to underestimate the epidemic. While it seemed to be quieting down, it was actually continuing to expand on an uninterupted exponential growth curve. The CDC now estimates the number of cases is doubling every 15-20 days in Liberia and Sierra Leone, making it harder and harder to offer the treatment and isolation measures necessary to halt the spread of the disease there. In our country, we are blessed with the health care and community resources to respond to the cases that do crop up and to contain the spread of the disease.

In even the worst case scenarios for Ebola in the United States, roughly 100 deaths, Ebola deaths are tiny fractions of the likely seasonal flu deaths which range widely from 3,000 to 49,000 annually.

We as Americans should be deeply concerned to help the countries fighting this epidemic without the necessary resources, but for ourselves in the short run, we should be most concerned about getting our flu shots and looking both ways when we cross the streets.

We should be concerned, for the long run, to support now the necessary research in infectious diseases to better protect the world and ourselves when something much more easily transmitted than Ebola comes along, something with the infectiousness of the flu but the severity of Ebola — that’s part of what the conference was about . . . encouraging the biotech industry in Massachusetts.

World Health Organization Statistics on health care personnel per 1,000 population.


Guinea (2004) Liberia (2008) Sierra Leone (2010) United States (2000)
Physicians 0.115 0.014 0.022 2.564
Nurses and Midwifery personnel 0.511 0.274 0.166 9.367
Dentistry Personnel 0.007 0.001 0.001 1.627
Pharmaceutical Personel 0.061 0.075 0.019 0.876
Laboratory Workers 0.031 0.032 0.002 2.284
Environmental and Public Health Workers 0.016 0.011 0.026
Comunity and Traditional Health Workers 0.011 0.022
Other Heatlh Workers 0.05 0.055 0.014 14.521
Health Management and Support Workers 0.059 0.014 12.379
TOTAL 0.861 0.476 0.272 43.618

Source: Global Health Observatory Repository.

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