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On Monday, a team led by the World Health Organization began inoculating people in the Democratic Republic of Congo against the Ebola virus with an experimental vaccine in an attempt to quell an outbreak of the disease that began in early May.
If the effort succeeds, and maybe even if it doesn’t, it will go down in history as the first time Ebola was met with more than just the crude tools of quarantine and hospice care.
That medical aid workers could begin such a campaign so quickly — within just two weeks of the earliest reported cases of the disease — is a testament to how well the lessons of the 2014 Ebola outbreak have been learned. That crisis raged across West Africa for more than a year, growing into a full-blown epidemic, claiming 11,300 lives — and yes, reaching American shores — before it was finally halted at a cost that exceeded $5.6 billion for the United States alone. Experts blamed the slow, uncoordinated response for the high death toll and steep price tag.
This time, things appear to be different: Doctors and scientists were deployed to the threatened region within days of the earliest reports of the disease, and by all accounts, global, national and nonprofit organizations have coordinated their efforts well.
To be sure, this latest resurgence of Ebola is still cause for concern. Forty-six cases have been reported so far, with 26 deaths, and the disease has already spread from the country’s remote northern reaches to a populous port city. But so far, the World Health Organization has not declared the crisis a “public health emergency of international concern,” the agency’s most serious designation. If efforts succeed, health officials say, the scourge could be eradicated by summer’s end.
“A lot of what’s working now is the result of remembering and learning from previous failures,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and the director of foreign disaster assistance at the United States Agency for International Development during the Obama administration.