Academic journal article Pepperdine Policy Review

Reflecting Back on the Ebola Outbreak and the Future of Bioterrorism

Academic journal article Pepperdine Policy Review

Reflecting Back on the Ebola Outbreak and the Future of Bioterrorism

Article excerpt


The 2014 Ebola pandemic, at first glance, is an interesting case study in public health. It demonstrates the many policy failures of public health organizations, as well as the ever-widening gap between the promise of modern medicine and the developing world. Upon further examination, however, the national security relevance of the outbreak becomes quite clear. In today's sophisticated and globally integrated economy, the public health concerns of one nation affect the wellbeing of others. With the constant transportation of goods and persons across international borders, the United States must pragmatically address public health and security concerns in conjunction.

The 2014 outbreak quickly escalated and grew into the deadliest Ebola outbreak the world has ever known, evolving into a national security priority for the United States (Obama, 2014). National security resources were allocated to help combat the spread of the virus within the African continent through the distribution of aid and expertise. Domestically, many security personnel were instrumental in screening ports of entry to prevent the proliferation of the disease throughout the western world. More importantly however, the "Ebola crisis" demonstrated the many vulnerabilities of the United States in regards to both policy and public psyche, which could be exploited in conjunction with a bioterrorism attack.

Global Pandemics and National Security

When trying to understand the link between national security and public health, it's important to note the difference between a pandemic and epidemic. An epidemic is an infectious outbreak which stays within a specific geographical area, and occurs when the number of infected persons rises well above what is expected within a city, county, state, or region (Nordqvist, 2016). When an epidemic is spread amongst people and spills across geographic borders, affecting several populations with the same infection, then the epidemic has elevated to a pandemic. Pandemic is derived from the Greek word, pandemos, meaning, "pertaining to all people," and is an outbreak of global proportions (Nordqvist, 2016). This is best demonstrated with the influenza virus, more popularly known as the flu. Influenza is a common virus with seasonal outbreaks (Nordqvist, 2016). Generally considered to be endemic in nature, influenza can evolve into a pandemic when a new strain (or subtype) emerges which people have no immunity against and thus are more susceptible to infection (Nordqvist, 2016). When a new virus or strand is discovered, the virus can quickly spread from person-to-person worldwide because the human population has little or no immunity towards the infection (Department of Health, 2016). Pandemics are a naturally occurring biological tool of natural selection, used to prevent overpopulation (Galvani & Slatkin, 2003).

The devastating power of these naturally occurring events is evidenced in episodes such as the bubonic plague, which swept through Europe in the Middle Ages and claimed the lives of one-third of the total population; or the infamous influenza outbreak of 1918 (the Spanish flu) which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide (Garrett, 2005). Many experts believe that we are overdue for another major flu pandemic. (Gupta, 2017). The current global HIV pandemic is estimated to affect more than 40 million people worldwide (Garrett, 2005). HIV has made an estimated 12 million children orphans and has killed nearly twice as many people (Garrett, 2005). The twentieth century brought tremendous growth in international trade and the most comprehensive redistribution of people, animals, animal products, and plants in human history (Jeffrey & Glarum, 2008). This century of integration and migration created new opportunities for the spread of viral outbreaks. Perhaps that is why the beginning of the new millennium has brought forth systematic viral scares: swine flu, bird flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS; reported in Asia in 2003), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS; reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012). …

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