Interview with Ebola Discoverer Peter Piot: It Is What People Call a Perfect Storm – part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, Interview Conducted by Rafaela von Bredow and Veronika Hackenbroch, Sept 26, 2014 (Photo Gallery).

Almost four decades ago, Peter Piot was part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus. In a SPIEGEL interview, he describes how the disease was isolated and explains why the current outbreak is different than any that have come before.

SPIEGEL: Professor Piot, as a young scientist in Antwerp, you were part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus in 1976. How did it happen?  

  • Piot: I still remember exactly: One day in September, a pilot from Sabena Airlines brought us a shiny blue thermos and a letter from a doctor in Kinshasa in what was then Zaire. In the thermos, he wrote, there was a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had recently fallen ill from a mysterious sickness in Yambuku, a remote village in the northern part of the country. He asked us to test the sample for yellow fever.

SPIEGEL: These days, Ebola may only be researched in high security laboratories. How did you protect yourself back then?

  • Piot: We had no idea how dangerous the virus we were dealing with was. And there were no high security labs in Belgium back then. We just wore our white lab coats and protective gloves. When we opened the thermos, the ice inside had largely melted and one of the vials had broken. Blood and glass shards were floating in the ice water. We fished the other, intact test tube out of the slop and began examining the blood for pathogens using the methods that were standard at the time.

SPIEGEL: But the yellow fever virus apparently had nothing to do with the nun’s illness: … //

… SPIEGEL: After Yambuku, you spent the next 30 years of your professional life devoted to combating AIDS. But now, Ebola has caught up to you again. American scientists fear that hundreds of thousands of people could ultimately become infected. Was such an epidemic to be expected?

  • Piot: No, not at all. On the contrary, I always thought that Ebola, in comparison to AIDS or malaria — didn’t present much of a problem because the outbreaks were always brief and local. Around June it became clear to me that there was something fundamentally different about this outbreak. At about the same time, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders sounded the alarm. We Flemish tend to be rather unemotional, but it was at that point that I began to get really worried.

SPIEGEL: Why did WHO react so late?

  • Piot: On the one hand, it was because their African regional office isn’t staffed with the most capable people but with political appointees. And the headquarters in Geneva suffered large budget cuts that had been agreed to by member states. The department for hemorrhagic fever and the one responsible for the management of epidemic emergencies were hit hard. But since August, WHO has regained a leadership role.

SPIEGEL: There is actually a well-established procedure for curtailing Ebola outbreaks: isolating those infected and closely monitoring those who had contact with them. How could a catastrophe such as the one we are now seeing even happen?

  • Piot: I think it is what people call a perfect storm: when every individual circumstance is a bit worse than normal and they then combine to create a disaster. And with this epidemic, there were many factors that were disadvantageous from the very beginning. Some of the countries involved were just emerging from terrible civil wars, many of their doctors had fled and their healthcare systems had collapsed. In all of Liberia, for example, there were only 51 doctors in 2010, and many of them have since died of Ebola.

SPIEGEL: The fact that the outbreak began in the densely populated border region between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia …

  • Piot: … also contributed to the catastrophe. Because the people there are extremely mobile, it was much more difficult than usual to track down those who had had contact with the infected people. Because the dead in this region are traditionally buried in the towns and villages they were born in, there were highly contagious Ebola corpses traveling back and forth across the borders in pick-ups and taxis. The result was that the epidemic kept flaring up in different places.

(full interview text).

Part 2: An Outbreak in Europe Would Quickly Be Brought Under Control.

Related Links:

Ebola in some Medias:

Ebola Symptoms:

The Disease:

see also:

Other Links:

Don’t apologize, resign: Family of killed teen wants justice amid renewed Ferguson unrest, on Russia Today RT, Sept 28, 2014;

Are You Depressed? Big Pharma Hopes So, on Dissident Voice, by Martha Rosenberg, September 27, 2014;

Whipping Boys in America, on Dissident Voice, by James Hoover, Sept 27, 2014;

Interview with Sobibór Survivor Philip Bialowitz: the Best Moment of my Life, conducted by Claus Hecking, on Spiegel Online International, Sept 26, 2014  (Video 0.31 min): … the 84 year old Sobibór survivor Philip Bialowitz discusses the importance of the recent discovery of the death camp’s gas chambers and his risky escape from the Nazis in 1943 …;

The History of ISIS Beheadings: Part of the “Training Manual” of US Sponsored Syria “Pro-Democracy” Terrorists, on Global, by Julie Lévesque, Sept 19, 2014;

… and this:

… und noch dies:

Volker Pispers: DieBananenrepublik, im September 2014 hochgeladen:

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