Comparing AIDS Epidemic to Ebola Outbreak

Ebola and AIDS spread rapidly in areas with poor health care systems.

Ebola and AIDS spread rapidly in areas with poor health care systems.

A recent study compares the commonalities and differences in the spread of Ebola and AIDS in Africa, and reflects on the lessons that can be learned from the international response to each.

The authors suggest that both Ebola and AIDS spread rapidly due to a slow international response and the failure of various public health systems to deal with the root causes of the epidemics.

“For AIDS, initially it was more important to place blame and stigmatize potential sources of the disease than it was to work towards knowledge mobilization and prevention activities. For Ebola, the magnitude of the problem was underestimated and the severity of the outbreak largely ignored,” the authors wrote.

Alan Whiteside and Nicholas Zebryk in the Canadian Journal of African Studies said fear and stigma are major factors in contributing to the spread of disease, “[They] threaten the ability to identify cases, provide care, and bring the epidemic under control.”

In the case of the AIDS epidemic, once public understanding of the disease increased, stigmatization and shaming of those infected reduced. Ebola’s much more infectious nature may always lead to higher levels of fear, but “demonizing the epidemic and its victims will not help.”

Both Ebola and AIDS are diseases that occur in areas with poor health care systems or where people, including gay men in Africa, cannot gain access to care. The “virtually non-existent” health care systems in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea made monitoring of the disease nearly impossible and increased the likelihood of future outbreaks.

Moreover, the conflict-damaged infrastructure could not respond to the issue appropriately, and the responses that were made were based on fear rather than science.

With the current Ebola outbreak somewhat contained and decades of science behind HIV/AIDS, the authors admit that the 2 disease pose different challenges.

“With Ebola, the major challenge is infection control,” they write. “With AIDS … it is to be able to cover the long-term financial costs of treatment. In many ways, Ebola can be described as ‘AIDS on steroids,’ although in the long run it may be more easily controlled.”