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This Is The Difference Between Having Ebola in America and in West Africa

Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Because Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to test positive for Ebola in the U.S., is receiving treatment in this country, his odds of survival are much higher than they have been for any of the roughly 7,150 cases in West Africa. So far, the others treated for Ebola in American hospitals have all survived, while the outbreak has killed more than 3,300 in West Africa, based on the World Health Organization's latest estimate. And that number is sure to get much higher. The worst-case scenario for Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone envisions as many as 1.4 million cases by January, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The reason for the different odds here and there is obvious: In U.S. hospitals, patients are isolated in hospital rooms specially set up for biocontainment, they receive specialized care and hydration, and have access to an experimental vaccine. That’s not happening in West Africa. In order to end this epidemic there , the CDC estimates, at least 70 percent of patients must be isolated in hospitals. In Liberia, the figure is just 18 percent. Over the last few weeks, the world has stepped up its response, with the U.S. committing to send military personnel to help train and build 17 treatment centers with 100 beds each. It still won’t be enough.

You don't even need numbers to appreciate the severity of need for more beds and better care. You just need to look at the conditions of medical facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of the countries hard-hit by Ebola. For example, compare two images below. One is of the Emory University isolation unit, where three patients received treatment. The other photograph, taken by the Washington Post's Michel du Cille, in late September, shows a hospital that's become a transfer and holding facility in one of the poorest parts of Monrovia, Liberia. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in medicine to figure out which facility is adequate—and which is not.

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