Private Company Keeps Ebola Under Control When Liberian Government Can't


Ebola Virus
Public Library of Science

National Public Radio is reporting the great success of Firestone Tire Company in stopping the spread of the Ebola virus among its 80,000 workers on its gigantic rubber plantation in Liberia. How? By rigorously implementing basic public health measures: (1) isolating infected patients, (2) quarantining the people with whom infected patients have had contact; and (3) protecting health care workers from infection.

As NPR reports …

… in August, as the epidemic raced through the nearby capital, patients with Ebola started appearing at the one hospital and several clinics across the giant rubber plantation. The hospital isolation ward was expanded to 23 beds and a prefab annex was built. Containing Ebola became the number one priority of the company. Schools in the town, which has been closed by government decree, were transformed into quarantine centers. Teachers were dispatched for door-to-door outreach.

Hundreds of people with possible exposure to the virus were placed under quarantine. Seventy-two cases were cases reported. Forty-eight were treated in the hospital and 18 survived. By mid-September the company's Ebola treatment unit was nearly full.

As of this weekend, however, only three patients remained: a trio of boys age 4, 9 and 17….

These three boys all came from outside the plantation. So even as the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded rages all around them, Firestone appears to have blocked the virus from spreading inside its territory.

Dr. Flannery of the CDC says a key reason for Firestone's success is the close monitoring of people who've potentially been exposed to the virus — and the moving of anyone who's had contact with an Ebola patient into voluntary quarantine.

Ebola continues to spread in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone largely because their ineffective governments cannot quarantine (either voluntarily or involuntarily) those exposed to the virus.

For more background see my article, "Disease, Public Health, and Liberty: Global diseases as a tragedy of the commons."