Learning from Ebola

What lessons from Ebola can prepare society for other outbreaks

The knowledge that, as bad as Ebola has been, it could have been far worse, is prompting leaders in government, industry and NGOs to discuss the need for new institutions or collaborations to conduct surveillance of infectious diseases, to plan public health responses, and especially to create medical countermeasures.

If attention wanes along with the current crisis, valuable lessons will be lost, and the world will be poorly prepared for future infectious disease outbreaks.

One of these lessons is the need for sustained investment in research and regulatory science, and for public policies that support private R&D for drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent infectious disease.

Another is the need for financial and commercial incentives that enable small companies to participate, as pharmas cannot be expected to shoulder all of industry's responsibility for public health on its own, and the ad hoc coalitions that have formed around Ebola may not be replicable (see Cover Story).

Some of Ebola's lessons aren't obvious, such as the need to resist the urge to engage in shortcuts and magical thinking in the heat of crisis. Once decisions are made to let the search for new medicines slip its scientific moorings, the damage can be irreversible.

Examples of putting sentiment ahead of science during the Ebola crisis have included conducting uncontrolled trials of

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