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Ebola Outbreak: A Dress Rehearsal for the “Big One”

A Life, Hope & Truth correspondent reports on his recent trip to Africa and Europe and the implications of the current Ebola outbreak for future pandemics.

Ebola Outbreak: A Dress Rehearsal for the “Big One”

A United Nations Development Programme worker checks temperatures in Sierra Leone in October of 2014

I just returned from a trip to East, Central and West Africa. My first stop was Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time of my stay in the Congo, Ebola was killing people several hundred miles away near the Ebola River, which gave its name to the virus. This was the Congo’s seventh outbreak of Ebola since 1976, and it was apparently unrelated to the ongoing deadly epidemic in West Africa.

As I write now, the Congolese outbreak has been declared over, after infecting 66 people (with 49 fatalities). I was in no real danger of contracting Ebola—there were no cases in Kinshasa. But it was quite enlightening to watch the measures taken by health authorities in the various African nations I passed through. The hotel where I stayed, for example, had posted signs encouraging all guests to wash their hands frequently to avoid the disease.

The speed and relative ease of air travel can transport epidemics from one side of the earth to another in hours.Precautions being taken

When I left Kinshasa, I had to pass a health screening at the airport. My temperature was taken with an infrared thermometer shaped like a pistol. I was required to fill out a health screening form asking me where I had been over the past days and if I had any contact with anyone showing symptoms of Ebola. I was also asked if I had symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea or vomiting. And, finally, I was asked where I could be reached at my destination.

At the end of this process, I was given a certificate attesting that I was free of Ebola symptoms.

At my next stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, all passengers were funneled through a large processing room where our temperatures were taken. We were also required to fill out a health screening form, similar to the one in Kinshasa.

The system was not as organized as it could and should have been. Even after the screening, health workers were wandering through the crowd looking for any passengers who had slipped through the net, and several had. Everything except the temperature reading depended on voluntary disclosure. The airport was in a very chaotic and disorganized state—which I did not find comforting.

There were similar screenings on arrival in Cameroon, Togo and France.

The dangers of the “next big one”

These experiences brought home to me how large a job it would be to try to contain a true international epidemic. The speed and relative ease of air travel can transport epidemics from one side of the earth to another in hours. A month before I went to the Congo, Ebola had already arrived in Dallas, just a few miles from my home.

I also saw how easy it would be for someone to slip through the health screening system if he lied about or misrepresented his symptoms. A person worried about being detained might not be concerned by the risk he poses to others.

Award-winning health and science writer David Quammen recently stated: “I don’t think this Ebola outbreak is the next big one. But I think it’s a dress rehearsal for the next big one.” In my recent experience, this dress rehearsal is not reassuring, and the Bible does prophesy “big ones” to come.

One of the signs Jesus gave that would identify the time preceding His return was “pestilences” in diverse places (Matthew 24:7). This corresponds to the fourth of the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse,” a pale green horse representing widespread death by, among other causes, disease epidemics (Revelation 6:7-8). This horseman will have the power to kill a quarter of the earth’s population!

In the Western world, disease epidemics used to be something that happened “over there,” far away. It is clear that in the prophesied epidemics to come, few if any parts of the earth will be untouched.

For further insight into the issues of Ebola and other disease epidemics, read:

Photo/Lesley Wright/UNDP/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

About the Author

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker is a pastor, writer, editor and administrator. He serves as regional director for the French-speaking regions of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association (a position he’s had for over 20 years). He is also chairman of its Ministerial Board of Directors.  

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