The international community was slow to respond to the African ebola outbreak. One reason was a lack of early warning. It comes down to something population health scientists call "surveillance", a word that alarms the lay public, since it conjures images of Big Brother observing our intimate activities. Surveillance systems can be simple or complex. They always cost money. But if they help to identify an outbreak, and thus help to prevent an epidemic, then they save much more money. But poor governments are unlikely to invest in prevention systems when there are immediate health crises that need resources right now: HIV/AIDS, Malaria, maternal and reproductive health issues, etc.