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Ice Buckets and Ebola

The contrast between the Ice Bucket Challenge and this summer’s other major health story, the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history, could not be more striking. While thousands of Americans soak themselves to benefit ALS research, Ebola has become a public-health catastrophe in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions.

NEW YORK – The “Ice Bucket Challenge” was the feel-good health story of the summer. YouTube videos of friends, family, and co-workers emptying buckets of ice-cold water over their heads has raised awareness, and millions of dollars in funding, for research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS is a degenerative neuromuscular disease that robs thousands of people worldwide of active control of their muscles, making them prisoners in their own bodies. Research on ALS should be well funded, and the campaign appears to show the public’s readiness to fight for anything that might save lives.

Or does it? The contrast between the Ice Bucket Challenge and this summer’s other major health story, the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history, could not be more striking. While thousands of Americans soak themselves to benefit ALS research, Ebola has become a public-health catastrophe in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions. The virus kills up to 90% of its victims by interrupting the blood’s natural ability to clot, causing terrible bleeding and shutting down vital organs. As with ALS, there is no tried and tested way to prevent or treat the disease.

In just a few weeks, Ebola has infected 3,707 men, women, and children, so far killing 1,848. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the disease could infect 20,000 people before it is controlled. Although far more than 20,000 people worldwide have ALS – from which many will die – the highly infectious Ebola virus is different, because it can wipe out entire communities.

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