"Can I just get five more seconds in the spotlight? How about four? Okay then...three...?
Speaking of Slow Learners, today's NPR blast of woulda-coulda-shoulda:
Speed. That's key to ending the Ebola epidemic, says the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Thomas Frieden is visiting West Africa this week to figure out how to reduce the time it takes to find new Ebola cases and isolate them.
Otherwise, Ebola could become a permanent disease in West Africa.
"That's exactly the risk we face now. That Ebola will simmer along, become endemic and be a problem for Africa and the world, for years to come," Frieden tells NPR. "That is what I fear most."
Frieden plans to spend several days in each country where the virus is still out of control — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The biggest challenge right now is in Sierra Leone, he says, where the epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. New cases continue to rise exponentially. Last week, the country reported nearly 400 cases, or more than three times the number of cases reported by Guinea and Liberia combined.
Since February, there have been nearly 18,000 reported Ebola cases globally, the World Health Organization says, with more than 6,000 deaths.
But Frieden is still confident that the three countries can eventually reach zero new cases and end the epidemic.
Because the world has stopped every Ebola outbreak before, Frieden says. "Even in this epidemic, we are stopping individual outbreaks. The challenge is doing it at a scale and with a speed that we've never done before."
When Frieden visited West Africa last time, in August and September, the disease was "raging out of control in Monrovia," he says.
Since then, the epidemic has slowed down in Liberia. "But we haven't been able to get it under control," he says.
"As the weeks have gone by, we have been able to intervene faster [in Liberia]," Frieden says. "We've found that we can stop outbreaks in weeks instead of months."
So a hot spot in one town or county ends up having only a handful of cases instead of hundreds, he says.
Now the CDC and international aid groups need to figure out how to do that in Sierra Leone.
But even then, the response may not be fast enough. All it takes is one sick person to travel to a vulnerable town and ignite a new hot spot. That's been happening in Guinea for months.
"It's not like a forest fire, so much," Frieden says, "as a country full of bush fires in different places."
Tom, check your spam filter: President Obola sh*t-canned you back in October, when he appointed Flounder to be the new Invisible Disinformation On Ebola Czar. The memo you missed is probably in there.
So, a few pointers:
* If you've noticed a lot of space on your Day Planner lately, it's because you're officially dead in D.C.
* The first hurdle to tracking Ebola contacts in West Africa, is getting the countries involved to admit that they have them. When everybody admits that there's a "fudge factor" of between 2 and 200 to multiply official reports by, going back to, oh...forever in this outbreak, that's how many cases you'll never track, times the 10-100 contacts they create.
* The second hurdle would be teaching 20,000,000 people there how to count. If the illiteracy rate there was the growth rate of GDP, they'd all be driving Beemers and flying in Gulfstreams. As it is, they wear sandals in case they have to make change for a quarter.
* Ain't nothing happening there on a Western "right now" time frame. They make "island time" look like a FedEx Distribution Hub. "Just in time" in West Africa means "order three years in advance, double the needed amount, and keep a slush fund handy for last minute bribes, and there's a 60% chance we'll have this no later than a month after you need it."
Seriously, dude, try talking to any of your own people there about this.
* Once you tackle those paltry problems, you only have to get past two or three other minor details:
The cultural hurdles of a grabby/touchy/feely society
The religious hurdles of inshallah and the associated local burial rites and customs
The scientific hurdles of taking a country to accepting scientific germ theory accepted here since Pasteur, in one where this month 50-75% of the peoples there are more likely to believe that what's killing people is curses and witchcraft than "Ebola".
If you look closely Tommy, you might notice how curiously similar all that sounds to the phrase "nation-building". Something Britain and France couldn't do there in centuries. Maybe there's no TV in your lab or office, or you're more of a theatres-and-symphony kind of guy, but that phrase doesn't have quite the cachet now that it might have had in, say, 2003.
So why don't you respond to one of the 47 e-mails that career recruiter has been sending you for the last 8-10 weeks, and see about updating your resume.
You've "solved" quite enough geo-political epidemics for one lifetime, I think, and maybe you should get a new hobby to fill your golden years.
Oh, and nota bene, careful readers, that NPR and Frieden himself are still describing this outbreak as "out-of-control" in no uncertain terms, in all three countries.