Lethality of Ebola in West Africa Mainly Due to “the Contingent History of a Population Made Vulnerable”

(p. 22) As Farmer writes in his new book, “Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History,” by the time he arrived in the capital city of Freetown in late September, “western Sierra Leone was ground zero of the epidemic, and Upper West Africa was just about the worst place in the world to be critically ill or injured.”

. . .

Farmer notes that even severe cases of Ebola rarely produce the horror-film symptoms featured so prominently in Preston’s “Hot Zone”: patients bleeding from their eyeballs, their organs liquefied in a matter of hours. Most cases instead involve fluid and electrolyte loss caused by vomiting and diarrhea, which can often be treated with basic supportive and critical care, like intravenous fluid replenishment or dialysis. Ebola was so lethal in upper West Africa not because the virus itself conveyed an inevitable death sentence, but because countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone lacked these health care essentials. “For all their rainfall,” Farmer writes, “their citizens are stranded in the medical desert.”

. . .

“This was not,” Farmer writes, “a history of inevitable mortality that resulted from ancient evolutionary forces.  . . .   It was the contingent history of a population made vulnerable.”

For the full review, see:

Steven Johnson “A Preventable Epidemic.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 13, 2020): 22.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “The Deadliness of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak Was Not Inevitable.”)

The book under review is:

Farmer, Paul. Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

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