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The notion of a neoliberal Ebola is so beyond the pale as to send leading lights in ecology and health into apoplectic fits.
Here’s one of bestseller David Quammen’s five tweets denouncing my hypothesis that neoliberalism drove the emergence of Ebola in West Africa. I’m an “addled guy” whose “loopy [blog] post” and “confused nonsense” Quammen hopes “doesn’t mislead credulous people.”
Scientific American’s Steve Mirksy joked that he feared “the supply-side salmonella”. He would walk that back when I pointed out the large literature documenting the ways and means by which the economics of the egg sector is driving salmonella’s evolution.
The facts of the Ebola outbreak similarly turn Quammen’s objection on its head.
GUINEA FOREST REGION IN 2014 (PHOTO CREDIT DANIEL BAUSCH)
The virus appears to have been spilling over for years in West Africa. Epidemiologist Joseph Fair’s group found antibodies to multiple species of Ebola, including the very Zaire strain that set off the outbreak, in patients in Sierra Leone as far back as five years ago. Phylogenetic analyses meanwhile show the Zaire strain Bayesian-dated in West Africa as far back as a decade.
An NIAID team showed the outbreak strain as possessing no molecular anomaly, with nucleotide substitution rates typical of Ebola outbreaks across Africa.
That result begs an explanation for Ebola’s ecotypic shift from intermittent forest killer to a protopandemic infection infecting 27,000 and killing over 11,000 across the region, leaving bodies in the streets of capital cities Monrovia and Conakry.
Explaining the rise of Ebola
The answer, little explored in the scientific literature or the media, appears in the broader context in which Ebola emerged in West Africa.
The truth of the whole, in this case connecting disease dynamics, land use and global economics, routinely suffers at the expense of the principle of expediency. Such contextualization often represents a threat to many of the underlying premises of power./.../