The ongoing outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa continue to devastate Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and recently caused a national emergency in Nigeria—as of August 28, the Centers for Disease Control was putting the suspected and confirmed case count at 3,069 all told, including 1,552 deaths. But in the last few days, with the virus entering Senegal and health workers discovering a fresh outbreak in Nigeria, global health groups such as the World Health Organization are getting increasingly strident with their concerns. On Sunday, WHO officials called Ebola’s arrival in Senegal “a top priority emergency.” On Tuesday, Joanne Liu, international president of the global health organization Doctors Without Borders, warned the UN that the world was “losing the battle to contain” the disease. “Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat,” she said.
Senegal, with a population exceeding 13 million, is the fifth country afflicted in the crisis. But it’s an especially worrisome one, because Senegal is an international transit hub. More than 30 carriers fly through the Léopold Sédar Senghor airport in Dakar, on the continent’s westernmost point, ferrying passengers to and from destinations in 25 countries around the world. While most of the routes are regional, some connect with major airports in New York, Paris, Istanbul, Dubai, and Johannesburg.
Compared to Senegal, the three countries that account for the vast majority of infections to date—Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea (see map below)—were isolated even before the outbreak: You could only fly directly to six destinations each from Liberia or Guinea, while carriers operating in Sierra Leone serviced ten routes. Despite the limited air traffic, the disease jumped borders when an American citizen flew from Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria, and become that country’s first reported infection, prompting some regional carriers to suspend flights to the three countries most affected.