The Ebola virus has found its way out of Africa into the United States. This may be the Next Black Swan Event that I pondered about two years ago; an low probability event that will have a high impact and long lasting consequences. Playing out scenarios, the United States shows itself as being vulnerable and could be the beachhead for the rapid spread of the disease.
In my post on Black Swan events, I mentioned that they are low probability events that have high impact – so much that it can cause dramatic shifts in society. The 9/11 attacks were one such event where we were not prepared with severe consequences. The H1N1 pandemic was another. However, the H1N1 was mitigated because its scenario had been worked out and preparations made.
The spread of the Ebola virus from North Africa to the United States may be the next black swan. We’ve been complacent at the spread of the disease in West Africa. We are unprepared to deal with it when it lands in North America. As a result, it may grab a beach head that will be the literal breeding ground for a mass epidemic.
In conversation with Patrick Andendall, a mathematician who loves statistics, he has outlined a scenario how Ebola could spread in North America. He has compiled and analyzed the latest available statistics regarding the Ebola epidemic and the political issues associated with how it is being managed in the United States and other countries around the world. His conclusions outline the conditions that would allow for Ebola to successful spread in the United States.
The reason Andendall says that Ebola has been successful in spreading in West Africa is because:
- Ebola is spreading in the poorest of countries
- These are areas where people distrust health workers.
- The countries have very limited medical facilities
- The countries have very limited government infrastucture
- The countries are extremely religious and have limited education.
These are the winning conditions for Ebola. Andendall posits that there are areas of the United States where similar winning conditions exist.
Parts of the United States that are very poor. Poverty is accompanied with lower education and government infrastructure.
The United States health care system ranks 46th in the world – along side Iran and Serbia. For comparison, Canada is 17th. There are some very unhealthy people in the US.
It is easy to see that the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina show up on both lists. You will recall that the first case of Ebola in the United States occurred in Texas. Health care workers were infected which shows how Texas was unprepared for the emergence of the disease .
It is scary that there are places in the United States where the winning conditions for the spread of the Ebola virus exist. It is time to get off the couch of complacency. The United Stats and all other countries must prepare for Ebola to show up on their doorstep and stop it. They must also step up the fight against its spread in West Africa where it is devastating lives.
I am grateful for Patrick Andendall’s insights. He is author of the book Stupidparty Math v. Myth Unmasking the Destructive Forces Eroding American Democracy.