But unlike in central Africa, where previous outbreaks were controlled through limited mobility of local populations, the current outbreak, centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is afflicting a corner of the world that features far greater travel.
So while central African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo are hardly equipped to deal with modern epidemics, the epidemiological limitations of prior Ebola outbreaks haven’t always required the kind of national mobilization that’s now necessary to bring the west African outbreak under control. Though all three west African countries have worked to build governing institutions, they are all barely a decade removed from some of the most fearsome civil wars in recent African history. That’s left all three countries with populations loathe to trust public health officials, making the Ebola outbreak west Africa’s most difficult governance crisis since the end of its civil wars in the early 2000s.
Though the three countries in the middle of the current crisis are relatively small, the news that Ebola has now travelled to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, via a US citizen no less, has raised concerns that Ebola could also spread even farther. Though the Nigerian government’s rapid response in quarantining and monitoring those exposed to Ebola was impressive, there are already worries that Ebola has crossed the border into Mali, where the government is still battling to unite the country after a disabling civil war with northern Tuareg separatists (and an influx of international Islamist jihadists).
The outbreak is already, by far, the deadliest in history, infecting 1,201 and killing 672, as of July 25, according to the World Health Organization. in the three countries since the first case was reported in Guinea in February.
So what exactly are the political and historical backgrounds of the three countries in the maelstrom of the current Ebola outbreak? And how equipped are they to handle a full-blown epidemic?