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Ebola: "A Spectacular Virus"; The Forgotten People; Imagine a World

Aired July 2, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight, "out of control." That is the word from West Africa now about the alarming spread

of Ebola and the hundreds dead in its wake. We'll hear from the man who first discovered the virus 40 years ago.

PETER PIOT, MD, CO-DISCOVERER OF EBOLA VIRUS (voice-over): -- with this strain of Ebola, you've got like a 90 percent chance of dying. That's

spectacular by any standard, one of the most lethal viruses that exist.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And later in the program, the most persecuted and forgotten people on Earth, the harrowing existence of the Rohingyas.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Ebola: its own discoverer calls it "a spectacular virus," one of the most lethal. And now out of control in West Africa, according to Medecins

sans Frontieres, where the deadliest outbreak on record is spreading like wildfire and it is gruesome.

Most of those who get it will die through uncontrollable bleeding, as hundreds are now succumbing in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. As

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf calls this a national emergency, health ministers from across the continent are urgently gathering in Ghana right

now to figure out how to try to combat this crisis.

Just today, the Red Cross was forced to suspend its operations in Southeast Guinea, ground zero for the current outbreak, when a group of

armed attackers threatened its health workers there.

Ebola was first identified almost 40 years ago and my guest tonight, Professor Peter Piot, is the man behind the discovery. He tells me how

poverty plus superstition, fear and ignorance all contribute to help spread the disease.


AMANPOUR: Professor Piot, welcome to the program. You were the co- discoverer of this virus. Right now, the World Health Organization and other doctors are saying it is out of control in this area of West Africa.

It's the worst outbreak ever that they've recorded in this part of the world.

Are you surprised?

PIOT: I am surprised. And it is true that this is unprecedented for several reasons. One, first time in West Africa that we have such an

outbreak. Secondly, this is the first time that three countries are involved. And thirdly it's the first time that we have outbreaks in

capitals, in capital cities.

AMANPOUR: As opposed to in remote, rural areas.

PIOT: Remote areas. All other outbreaks were in remote areas, forest areas.

AMANPOUR: Let's just look at this map when we talk about three countries involved. You've got Guinea, 303 deaths so far; Sierra Leone, 99

deaths and Liberia, 65 deaths. The president of Sierra Leone is calling this a national disaster, an emergency.

Why is it significant that it's urban and what does it mean for people? Remind us how bad it is.

PIOT: Well, Ebola virus infection starts with a, you know, something that looks like the flu -- headache, fever, maybe diarrhea. But then you

can develop very fast bleeding that's uncontrollable and that's how people die, although all of them, 80-90 percent.

And the problem is that what we can do is, in theory, very simple. You are -- soap and gloves; that's what you need. You don't reuse

injections, I mean, syringes --

AMANPOUR: Which is obvious.

PIOT: Obvious -- it's all obvious.

AMANPOUR: So you're saying very basic sanitary measures can control this.

PIOT: Absolutely. This is -- these are outbreaks -- this is an epidemic of dysfunctional health systems, because the -- who dies first?

It's nurses and doctors who take care of them. And then the next wave is their own funerals, when the body is cleaned and washed and these bodies,

when someone who dies from Ebola is -- are full of virus.

AMANPOUR: So there's this vicious cycle, if you like?

PIOT: Exactly. And then we have also the fear of the virus. And the lack of trust in government, in the health system, is as bad as the actual


AMANPOUR: What does out of control mean to you and me, to the people who are living here in West Africa?

PIOT: Well, first of all, when I see these figures, every day there are new infections, new deaths, meaning that this epidemic is still alive

and well and spreading. That's one thing.

Secondly, because it's also happening in urban populations, isolating the patients, finding the contacts is far more difficult than when you're

in a remote, rural area where everybody knows each other and where the community leaders are -- also can help.

AMANPOUR: You've called it a spectacular virus.

Why is it so spectacular, so dangerous?

PIOT: Well, it's spectacular because, once you get it, at least with this strain of Ebola, you've got like a 90 percent chance of dying. That's

spectacular by any standard, one of the most lethal viruses that exist.

On the other hand, you need really close contact to become infected. So just being on the bus with someone with Ebola, that's not a problem.

It's also not iatrogenic (ph), so it's not transmitted through droplets and so on.

So it is really something that, in theory, is easy to contain; but in practice there are beliefs, when you think this is witchcraft, when people

are coming to get the -- you know, the diseased relatives under dead bodies, take them away. That's the problem.

AMANPOUR: Well, interestingly, the president of Liberia says that anybody caught hiding any an Ebola victim will be prosecuted.

But how did it get to the urban area?

Why has it spread so rapidly to that area?

PIOT: Well, first of all, we are not 100 percent sure where this virus comes from. Probably from some bat and then --

AMANPOUR: Isn't that just incredible, though? I mean, you discovered this in 1976 and you still do not know for sure what is the host organism.

PIOT: Indeed. And a lot of research has been done, but not enough.

And as long as we don't know where exactly this virus hides outside epidemics, then we can't map where the risks are.

And we are an accidental host, because a virus that kills the host in one to two weeks, that host is not that interesting for that virus, because

it has to find another host. So we're an accidental host.

So what happened is that a person is infected, is hospitalized, infects other patients and particularly health care workers. They're

buried somewhere.

Around that funeral, people are becoming infected when they're touching the body and so on. And then they get ill and then they go

somewhere else and then they go to relatives in town, maybe because they hope to have better health care. That's how it spreads.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's going to spread more?

PIOT: Well, I'm very concerned about Mali, for example, when you see that these borders are very porous. People cross them; there's a lot of

commerce and so on.

And Senegal, Mali, Gambia, Ivory Coast -- I would be very worried.

AMANPOUR: This could explode into a really mega-crisis.

PIOT: I think so and it is already a mega-crisis with these number of deaths that are increasing.

For me, this is a reason for a state of emergency, you know, in these countries.

AMANPOUR: So what should they do? Quarantine the whole area?

What does it mean, a state of emergency?

PIOT: Well, it means that you need a combination of nearly military type of control measures -- isolation, quarantine of those who have the

disease, but also their relatives, to make sure that they're not spreading the infection. And, secondly, community mobilization. Information can

save lives here.

AMANPOUR: Isn't that just the problem though? People are uninformed and scared.

PIOT: Absolutely. And the fear of the virus and running away from health services, that contributes to perpetuate the spread of Ebola virus.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back to 1976 when you were a younger man and you actually co-discovered this virus. It was in Zaire, now the Democratic

Republic of the Congo.

How did you find it?

PIOT: Well, we were working then in the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, where we got a sample, blood sample, from a dead nun,

a Flemish nun working in Zaire. And the clinical diagnosis was yellow fever. And we were equipped to isolate the yellow fever virus.

But then something completely different came out of it and under the microscope it looked like -- kind of a more like a wormlike structure, as

we see.

AMANPOUR: As we can see, yes.

PIOT: Very big virus. And there was only one other virus known to be of that shape and then the virus was confirmed at the Centers for Disease

Control in Atlanta that it was not Marburg but something new.

AMANPOUR: But why no cure?

PIOT: Well, first of all, in these days, we had no clue how the virus was transmitted.

So the first thing you need to know in terms of prevention, how is it transmitted? Is it through blood, through food, through coughing, sex,

what have you? And that's very important when to contain an epidemic.

And we found it was close contact and reutilizing syringes and needles.

No treatment -- there are some experimental treatments that have been tried out in monkeys, but never in people. And so the problem --

AMANPOUR: Should it be?

PIOT: I think it should be. Because in this case, there are so many people who are ill, it's a way of trying to find out whether something

works and I think it will reinforce the belief -- and reinstall the belief of people in health services.

AMANPOUR: Is this virus becoming more resistant?

PIOT: No, I don't think there's any evidence for that, that it's becoming more virulent or more resistant.

AMANPOUR: Or morphing in any way.

PIOT: No, no. No.

AMANPOUR: Because I -- the big story in Europe right now, Prime Minister David Cameron is launching a campaign against these sort of

superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

They say something like 5,000 people in England, 25,000 people around Europe, die every year because of resistance to antibiotics.

Am I getting that right?

PIOT: Absolutely. This is one of the biggest challenges of the future and that is the possibility that some of the very banal bacterial

infections will be untreatable. And then major surgery will become untreatable. People admitted to hospital will die from these infections.

We already have some strains like that for tuberculosis.

And so I fully agree with Prime Minister Cameron that this is one of the big scientific and public health challenges of the future.

AMANPOUR: And what do we do about it?

PIOT: First of all, prescription of antibiotics needs to be more disciplined -- only prescribing and taking them when it's absolutely

indicated. Otherwise that contributes to developing resistance.

Secondly, a lot of antibiotics are given to animals and are -- that contributes to the development of resistance, because the food that we have

is full of antibiotics.

And, thirdly, there's been market failure in terms of developing new antibiotics. We need new approaches, new antibiotics and that's where a

number of new initiatives are being taken by the U.K. government, by WHO in the U.S.

So I think, now, because of the greater awareness, there is hope. But we're running out of time.

AMANPOUR: Professor Peter Piot, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

PIOT: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now as we heard, Ebola can strike health workers as well as those they try to save. Back in 1998, I visited a Ugandan doctor, Matthew

Lukwiya, at his hospital outside Gulu, where he was then treating victims of the infamous Joseph Kony and his vicious Lord's Resistance Army. Many

of those were children.

Two years later, an Ebola epidemic, one of the first we remember, broke out there. And Dr. Lukwiya, while treating the victims, tragically

became the very first doctor to die of the disease.

And after a break, "any man's death diminishes me," so wrote the poet John Donne.

But what if you'd been born and never existed? That's the plight of the world's most persecuted people. Their heartrending story when we come





AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

The Rohingya today are the most persecuted people in the world, so says the United Nations. They live between Myanmar and Bangladesh. But

they're not officially citizens and they are denied passports. They're denied access to health care, education and decent jobs. They are, in

effect, stateless.

In Myanmar, or Burma, in the past few years, mobs of Buddhist extremists have torched whole Rohingya villages, forcing hundreds of

thousands to flee.

My next guest, the "Sunday Times" journalist Adrian Gill, went to find these persecuted people in the pitiful refugee camps they end up in. As

one Rohingya refugee told him, "When I die, someone will have to write a certificate. They will have to say that I was here, that I lived."

Adrian Gill joins me now here in the studio.



AMANPOUR: And you really did go out and tell a story that not many of us have been coverage. These are so very much the forgotten people.

GILL: It doesn't really fit in with our vision of what's important in the world. I mean, they fall between so many cracks, the Rohingyas. It's

not a place that is threatening ours; it's not about the war on terrorism. It's -- they -- and having been made stateless, they have no one to tell

their story. They have nowhere to go. They don't have an ambassador anywhere. They don't have a seat at the U.N.

I mean, to be made stateless is one of the most drastic things you can do to anybody.

AMANPOUR: Do you remember the guy who told you that, this elderly man and of course the children who are born there and they don't get passports.

And the man said this to you.

GILL: Oh, he was -- I mean, they were a series of the most pitiful interviews I've ever done. I mean, I simply sat in rooms of these people

and one after the other, they burst into tears. But they cried the most pitiful tears after years and years.

He -- this was -- he'd been a head man in Burma. He'd had to leave because he'd had his farm stolen. He'd -- his people and his family had

been killed. He'd escaped and he'd been brought to Bangladesh, where these refugee camps are.

And in the refugee camps, he'd been part of the -- there'd been a riot in the camps. There had been people who had been -- he'd been put in jail.

He'd been in jail for years and years in Bangladesh, unable to lie down, not enough -- he couldn't raise the money to buy floor space to lie down.

I mean, he was -- and he had no -- he had no -- nothing. They said he simply had his family in this camp.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back and look at this map. I mean, why are they being persecuted? And you said it doesn't fit into our narrative. I mean,

we're kind of shocked to know that Buddhists, who we think as officially peaceful are the ones wreaking this havoc on these people.


GILL: -- this, I suppose, is the unique selling point of this story, which is that this is peaceful Muslims being persecuted by vicious


AMANPOUR: And why?

GILL: Well, that's the big question at the heart of this story. And I asked absolutely everybody. And nobody can give me a straightforward

answer. There is so cause of animus.

Burma has over 100 minorities which it recognizes. The only one that it doesn't recognize is the Rohingya. It's possibly partly to do with

history, the Rohingyas were pro-British when the Buddhists during the war were rather more pro- the Japanese. They thought they would give them


But it may be just that the pressure of poor people together, an awful lot of this is about -- is about taking land, about stealing back farms,

about using people as slave labor. Most of the men are used as slave labor and are killed when they can no longer do labors.

AMANPOUR: One of these guys you mentioned, the British, said that it was much better for us under the British than since colonialism ended.

And the extraordinary thing is -- and people have criticized her for this -- the great democracy icon, the person who spent so many years under

house arrest, standing for human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi, has actually said very little if anything in public about this persecution.

GILL: I think this is the loudest silence in the world. And most of the Rohingyas supported her father and his political party. And now they

look to her and she has pointedly refused to say anything on their behalf, about the --


AMANPOUR: And again, there's a big why to that.

GILL: Well, I think that there is in Burma itself, she's looking for election herself, most of the Buddhist Burmese agree with this. This is a

persecution that comes from the top down. It comes from the government. It is being persecuted by neighbors but it is being authorized by the

government. The law and the army are two of the biggest perpetrators of this --


AMANPOUR: And so when you went to Bangladesh -- and I think you've described it as the worst among many refugee situations that you've

covered, the worst that you've seen, you had to get sort of permission from the Bangladeshi government and they warned you, didn't they, just how you

should be framing this story.

GILL: Yes. I have a -- I must say, I have a lot of sympathy for the Bangladeshi government. It's that they're in a hard place. These are --

the Burmese say quite simply all these people are Bengali. They're all Bangladeshi because they're Muslim. They're plainly not. It's illegal to

say -- it's illegal to disown your own people.

And Bangladesh feels that it's being caught on the horns of somebody else's --


GILL: -- and this is already a very poor country. I mean, they really don't need an influx of refugees who are being used by gang masters

in Bangladesh to undercut the wages, the pitiful wages already of rickshaw drivers and manual workers.

AMANPOUR: And let's not forget, again, they've been here for years and sometimes decades. One woman you met, Nabin, had been there for 80

years and she talked about being beaten. But you thought it covered a multitude --

GILL: The women talk a lot about being beaten and it -- and I gathered, I felt and other people corroborated this, that this was usually

a -- or often a euphemism for rape. There's an enormous amount of rape involved in this.

AMANPOUR: And they're not even called Bangladeshis, right?

GILL: No, they're not. And the Bangladeshis won't allow them to be called Bangladeshis. But that mean -- and they won't allow them to be part

of the Bangladeshi education system. They have to be taught in Burmese, a language that they don't actually most of them speak.

They are properly caught in an impossible position. And it is utterly hopeless. I've never seen so many peaceful hopeless people with utter


AMANPOUR: What does the U.N. say about their prospects? Will they forever be there, the UNHCR, the refugee agency?

GILL: It doesn't look good. I mean, the U.N. is always hopeful. The U.N. is always for a negotiated settlement, that something will turn up,

that -- I mean, a third of the people in these camps have been born in the camps.

And these are children; I saw a woman with a day-old baby and they are -- they are having children at an incredible rate -- with a day-old baby

and she was born in the camp. The mother was -- this is the second, third generation.

AMANPOUR: What made you want to go there?

GILL: It was a story I hadn't read about.

AMANPOUR: Simple as that. Shine the light. Thank you, Adrian Gill.

And after a break, it's been half a century since President Lyndon Johnson guaranteed civil rights to all Americans with the stroke of a pen.

Actually, it took 70 of them and we'll tell you why and who when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, in the ongoing fight for freedom and equality around the globe, today marks the 50 years since a major turning

point in that struggle, when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the U.S. 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Now imagine a world where that epic moment might never have happened if not for a 68-year-old white Republican. Like today, the U.S. Congress

was a house divided, as Southern Democrats -- yes, many of them racist -- filibustered nonstop for nearly two months, determined to block any civil

rights legislation.

Despite all his legendary powers of persuasion and even with a majority in Congress, LBJ could not break the deadlock until he turned to

the Senate Minority Leader, a conservative Republican from Illinois named Everett Dirksen.

And unlike today, Senator Dirksen crossed the aisle as well as the Rubicon, to work with Democrats and fellow Republicans to end the

filibuster and pass a bill that, while far from perfect, at last guaranteed equal rights to all Americans, black and white.

On July 2nd, 1964, President Johnson signed the historic legislation, handing out some 70 pens to everyone who had made it possible, from Martin

Luther King, who led the struggle from the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to King's arch nemesis, FBI director

J. Edgar Hoover, who now would be charged with enforcing the new law.

But LBJ gave the first of those 70 pens to Everett Dirksen, who quoted these words from Victor Hugo, "Stronger than all the armies is an idea

whose time has come."

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and

Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.