Eye Care for Ebola SurvivorsWhile Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in just Western Africa in 2014-2015, the thousands who survived are now at risk of developing vision loss face issues caused by the infection. These survivors commonly face vision problems, ranging from uveitis (a form of eye inflammation) to optic neuropathy to panuveitis (inflammation of all the layers of the uveal tract).

One study found that nearly 40 percent of the people observed developed an ocular disease. The most common symptoms were blurry vision and photophobia — sensitivity to light — observed in 76 and 68 percent of patients, respectively. Tearing, pain, floaters and redness in the eyes were also prevalent. Many of those examined also had glaucoma and retinal detachment.

The Congo’s Reaction to the Latest Ebola Outbreak

Learning from previous outbreaks, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently set up a clinic in Beni to provide eye care for Ebola survivors. This is the first time that follow-up eye treatment has been offered so soon after patients have been released from care. A similar clinic has also been established in Butembo, another heavily affected area.

Survivors of Ebola have helped establish this clinic, providing aid and community outreach in this time of need. Emory University and the University of North Carolina have also donated ophthalmologists to help the effort get on its feet. Organizations, such as the WHO, are also working with the Ministry of Health to keep the clinics thriving.

So far, 250 people have been seen and examined. From their initial tests, complications like uveitis were low compared to previous outbreaks. Plans are also in place to train 10 Congolese ophthalmologists on Ebola-related issues in order to expand treatment options for patients. Over the following months, more clinics will be established to accommodate more than 300 patients who are on the waiting list.

The Need for Screening

While it remains unclear as to why Ebola affects people’s vision, it is clear that there is some correlation. Some studies show that Ebola may lead to uveitis because a higher viral load enables Ebola to enter the eye and establish viral persistence, which later leads to uveitis.

Doctors are finding that eye care for Ebola survivors relies heavily on early screening. One study showed that patients who were promptly screened for an initial assessment for the disease were easier to treat and at less risk for reduced vision. While more research is needed to determine the links between Ebola and visions loss, the establishment of clinics in disease-prone areas is a step in the right direction.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Ebola Epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
On May 8, 2018, The Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared an outbreak of the virus disease Ebola in the North Kivu Province. The Democratic Republic of the Congo declared the epidemic over on July 24, 2018. This represented the ninth Ebola epidemic in this African country since 1976.

The Development of Ebola Epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The disease had been slowly building to the epidemic, even catastrophic levels. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), the country had seen and been aware of the virus in the area since the April 4. The organization reports that, in April, a total of 44 people had been infected with the Ebola virus, which included 23 deaths.

However, in May, this number was disputed, as only 3 new cases were confirmed. The World Health Organization later narrowed the origins of this particular epidemic and found that it began in the northwestern area of Bikoro, which was the place where first cases were recorded on May 8. From this, The World Health Organization identified nearly 400 contacts of Ebola victims that are currently and continuously being followed up.

The History of Ebola Outbreaks in DRC

This isn’t the first Ebola outbreak the country has seen, however. Though Ebola outbreaks are uncommon, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced multiple flare-ups of the virus- nine since 1976. One such flare-up happened in not so distant past, in 2017 to be exact, with five confirmed cases that were quickly dealt with. The fast response and eradication convinced many, including the World Health Organization and health officials that the 2018 Ebola epidemic in the country will be easily dealt with. Yet, this prediction proved to be optimistic and naive since, within a month of declaring the outbreak of an epidemic, two health officials were among those affected.

The Declaration of Epidemic

The World Health Organization was very quick to declare this year’s Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a global emergency to public health. Unlike the Ebola epidemic that ravaged Western Africa in 2014, The World Health Organization declared a state of emergency in the Democratic Republic of Congo swiftly after seeing the number of cases increase.

Moreover, the organization made an immediate urgent request for $57 million to stop the spread of Ebola. In total, the money received amounted to $63 million, exceeding the appeal by $6 million. Among those who contributed to the funding towards ending this Ebola epidemic in the DRC was USAID who contributed with $5.3 million.

On July 24, 2018, Al Jazeera reported that the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been declared over. The virus had lasted a total of 10 weeks and had taken a total of 33 lives. Fortunately, the disease had remained contained, as Bikoro, the epicenter of the epidemic is a remote area of the country.

Although the people that were infected as a result of last Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo have completed their treatment, and have thus been declared cured, the health ministry of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as The World Health Organization are monitoring the situation in the country closely to ensure the virus does not spread.

Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr

History of Ebola in SenegalThe outbreak of Ebola in Senegal became official at the end of August in 2014. A young man who had traveled from Guinea—a country already inflicted with ebola—to Dakar (the capital city of Senegal) was confirmed to have the virus. The WHO immediately jumped into action and sent three of the world’s best Ebola epidemiologists to contain the disease and prevent spreading.

Symptoms of Ebola

The first symptoms of Ebola are like the typical signs of flu such as a headache, fever and chills. It spreads through contact of bodily fluids resulting in internal bleeding and organ failure. A person with a late stage of the virus often shows symptoms such as coughing up blood.

The disease has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Ebola can be contracted from the bodies of those who died from it, particularly when relatives bury them without protective gear.

About the History of Ebola in Senegal

Senegal was in a relatively advantageous position when Ebola struck their country because they had time to prepare as they watched it spread in neighboring countries. A National Crisis Committee was established quickly, to which funds were allocated in order to suppress the virus. To be safe, the government of Senegal expanded the eradication plan nationwide in response to the single case found in Dakar.

The fight against Ebola started with locating every person that came in contact with the first infected man in the country. After 74 people were identified, they were monitored intently to watch for signs of symptoms. The few that showed any symptoms similar to that of Ebola were tested, and all tests came back negative.

The infected man was treated in a hospital and recovered fully. He was allowed to re-enter the society once it was decided he was not carrying any contagion.

Around the time that Ebola broke out in Senegal, the country closed its borders to travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. This safety measure was taken in response to the massive epidemic of Ebola in those countries. The president of Senegal stated publicly that it should not just be an African emergency, but a global priority.

Senegal was lucky in comparison to its neighbors. The case of Ebola in Senegal is a perfect example of the positive effects proactive measures can have. Because Senegal took precautions before Ebola was found in their country, they were prepared for the disease when it was discovered.

Ebola-Free Senegal

A major factor in the success of Senegal’s fight against Ebola is the awareness they had about Ebola’s advances in their surrounding countries. Some of the measures Senegal took could be seen as excessive, but their “better safe than sorry” attitude contributed significantly to their Ebola-free status.

After the standard 42-day waiting period for Ebola cases, Senegal was declared Ebola-free by WHO on October 17, 2014. The country has not had another case since.

When the government of a country prioritizes the safety and health of its people, innumerable lives are saved. The diligence of Senegal ensured there was no more than one case found and no deaths from Ebola.

Even a disease as fatal and severe as Ebola can be prevented when fought effectively. Other nations can use Senegal’s response to Ebola as a role model for how to fight the disease.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

History of Ebola in GuineaA rapidly spreading virus with a high fatality rate and no cure, Ebola was first recorded in Guinea in 2013 with the death of a local two-year-old boy. This marked the first outbreak of Ebola in all of West Africa. Since then, the highly fatal virus has been spreading throughout neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, leaving a trail of death behind it.

History of Ebola in Guinea: A Look at the First Case

A two-year-old boy living in the remote village of Meliandou, Guinea, Emile Ouamouno is the first recorded case of Ebola in West Africa. According to the EMBO Molecular Medicine journal, researchers believe Ouamouno was playing with bats in a hollowed tree trunk when he contracted the virus. He died two days later after battling a fever, vomiting and black stool. His mother, sister and grandmother expired soon after. The deadly virus was spreading. In a span of four months, residents of Meliandou buried 14 people due to Ebola. By March, the virus had emerged in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Panic began to set in around the globe.

Containment and Quarantine in Guinea

It wasn’t until months later that Ouamouno’s death was recognized as Ebola. On March 23, 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the outbreak in Guinea and reported that 49 people were already infected.

The same month, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde declared a 45-day national health emergency. In a national statement, Conde banned those who had contact with Ebola victims from leaving their homes and anyone who disregarded this measure was “a threat to the public and will face the might of the law.”

Transportation and travel came to a halt. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids such as spit or blood and handling infected bodies can also lead to contraction of the virus. Border control in Guinea intensified and travel restrictions increased. However, none of this could stop animals that cross borders effortlessly, carrying the virus with them. The history of Ebola in Guinea continued to rage on.

The Illusion of Elimination

Heavily stigmatized by society, Ebola victims would often hide their illness and continue to interact with society. With an incubation period of up to three weeks, it is impossible to test positive for Ebola until symptoms show. By then, it might be too late. Villages quarantined themselves out of fear.

Others doubted the very existence of Ebola. A member of the Fula ethnic group had a different explanation. “This outbreak isn’t real. How could we be having Ebola here?” he said. “President Conde made it up because he’s trying to delay elections.”

Ebola continued to spread in 2014 with no end in sight, despite educational campaigns and international health workers. In fact, the health workers contributed to the conspiracy theories. Dressed in all yellow, moving stiffly and setting up quarantined tents where loved ones entered and never returned prompted fear in the locals. Some villagers began to spread rumors that the medical workers were harvesting organs and stealing limbs. The number of people willing to enter quarantine tapered off.

Reemergence of Ebola in Guinea

In late May, the last case of Ebola in Guinea was symptom-free for 21 days. President Conde announced, “for the moment, the situation is well in hand.” International medical workers began to depart the country and communities let out sighs of relief. At that moment, the nightmare was over.

In late July, a new patient was admitted. By the end of the month, dozens more from all over Guinea. The presence of Ebola in Guinea continued and was worse than ever.

The Deadliest Year

In 2014, more than 1,500 people died from Ebola in West Africa. Meliandou. This is where Ebola began in Guinea with the death of Emile Ouamouno, only to be isolated and ostracized from the national community. Surrounding villages refused to trade and vehicles were scared to enter the borders. In Meliandou, Ebola became less of a concern as people began to suffer hunger and poverty.

Free of Ebola

On December 29, 2014, Guinea was declared free of Ebola. However, Guinea was still in a state of heightened surveillance for the next three months. More than a year passed with Guinea recovering from the health emergency and mourning those who died.

In March 2016, two people in Guinea tested positive for Ebola. Fear began to creep up again in local communities. By March 22, 2016, more than 816 people in contact with the individuals had been quarantined and Liberia closed its borders with Guinea.

On April 1, 2016, an experimental vaccination was used on those with suspected contact with infected individuals. On April 5, 2016, it was reported that nine new cases of Ebola emerged in Guinea. Eight died. The WHO implemented a short incubation period and on June 1, 2016, declared Guinea free of Ebola. At last, the history of Ebola in Guinea came to a close.

Photo: Flickr

History of Ebola in LiberiaThe first outbreak of Ebola in Liberia was documented in March 2014. By June of that year, Ebola began to take lives. On August 6, the president of Liberia declared a state of emergency, closed schools, and established an Ebola task force.

In her statement on August 6, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated, “The virus currently has no cure and has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. The aggregate number of cases: confirmed, probable and suspected in Liberia has now exceeded 500 with about 271 cumulative deaths. With 32 deaths among health care workers. The death rate among citizens, especially among health workers is alarming.”

Development of Epidemic

In mid-August, the Ivory Coast banned all flights traveling to or from Liberia. Ebola had also spread to neighboring countries, including Guinea and Sierra Leone. Multiple clinics began opening in Monrovia, country’s capital, and across the country, but they did not have enough space to house all those inflicted, and many people died outside hospitals waiting for care.

The president of Liberia requested international assistance in early October of 2014, and on October 16, President Barack Obama granted the use of the National Guard and reservists in Liberia.

At that point, nearly 4,500 people had died from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The military personnel sent by the U.S. assisted in building clinics and providing humanitarian assistance.

Working on Ebola-free Country

World Health Organisation (WHO) began to implement its 70-70-60 plan to curb the epidemic. The goal was to get 70 percent of the cases isolated and 70 percent of the deceased buried safely within 60 days starting on October 1, 2014. WHO also worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Health to train health care workers on how to safely treat patients that were infected.

In November 2014, WHO reported that there was evidence of a decline of new cases of Ebola in Liberia. In January 2015, clinics that had been overflowing began to close due to a lack of patients.

As of January 28, 2015, there were only five reported cases of Ebola in Liberia. The prevalence of the disease began declining significantly over the next year.

On the May 9, Liberia was declared Ebola-free and three months passed without a recurrence of the disease. Medecins Sans Frontieres encouraged people to stay aware of the disease coming back after the announcement of the eradication.

A few new cases were found in the summer of 2015, but they did not lead to another significant outbreak. Liberia continued to be declared Ebola-free on and off for every 42-day period that passed without a reported case. Most recently, Liberia has been Ebola-free since June 9, 2016.

The Causes for Epidemic Spreading

The massive outbreak of Ebola in Liberia has been contributed by lack of sanitation, corruption and hiding of bodies/diseased people, among others factors.

Many Liberians did not report cases of Ebola or deaths due to it. Instead, they were self-treating and burying bodies in unsafe places. This practice led to the disease spreading at a faster pace.

Lack of sanitation was a major contributor, as many Liberians in Monrovia use the beach and the river as a lavatory. Without sanitary spaces, Ebola was able to run rampant. Additionally, it was reported that body-collection teams would accept bribes from families who did not want people to know their relative died of Ebola. Instead of collecting the body, the teams would leave it with the family so they could host their own funeral.

Thankfully, Liberia has been Ebola-free since 2016 and is now better equipped to handle an outbreak it was to return.

– Amelia Merchant

Photo: Flickr

History of Ebola in MaliHistory of Ebola in Mali began in October 2014 when Aminata Gueye Tamboura tried to protect her (non-biological) granddaughters from the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. They traveled back to her home in Mali by taxis, buses and public transportation, while one of the girls, Fanta Condé, had symptoms of fever and nosebleeds. The two-year-old was brought to the Fousseyni Daou Hospital and was diagnosed with Ebola on October 23. One day later, she passed away.

The Spread of Ebola in Mali

Condé’s diagnosis was especially alarming because of the amount of people she could have made contact with throughout their journey to Mali. Once notified, WHO tracked down and quarantined 108 people who may have been exposed to Condé. Notably, no one in that group showed symptoms throughout the 21-day quarantine and were released in November.

On October 27, a few days following Condé’s death, another Ebola victim passed away. The imam had travelled to Mali from Guinea in search of a treatment for kidney failure he had for about one month. While doctors did not diagnose him, kidney failure is associated with late-stage Ebola. Soon after his visit to the Pasteur Clinic in Bamako, a nurse became sick and died, raising concerns about Ebola. On November 11, the nurse’s diagnosis of Ebola was confirmed. The hospital and areas that the imam and nurse had visited were quarantined, allowing health authorities to learn that a doctor at the clinic had Ebola as well.

Preventing the Spread of Ebola in Mali

In response to these outbreaks, emergency teams made from organizations such as WHO, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the United Nations and others were deployed in Mali. Certain groups already had a presence in Mali due to its shared borders with countries with Ebola outbreaks, allowing them to immediately take action. The history of Ebola in Mali was dramatically shorter than in neighboring African countries, largely because of the efforts of these organizations.

WHO, for example, was able to test blood samples in hours, hastening the process of diagnosis. They trained over 900 health workers to appropriately handle the outbreak. Preventative measures were taken as well; WHO provided hand washing facilities and temperature checks at hospital entry points.

In accordance with the tradition of diatiguiya, Mali did choose to keep its borders open. It continued to practice hospitality with its neighbors, despite the challenging circumstances at the time. Health checks were put in place, however, as preventative measures.

By January 6, 2015, the CDC had removed travel warnings in Mali, deeming it safe. On January 8, Mali was officially declared Ebola-free. The last Ebola patient tested negative on December 6, 2014, and no cases of ebola have come about since. The history of Ebola in Mali lasted a short few months because Mali effectively contained the virus wherever it appeared. In other West African countries, people were reluctant to believe in the Ebola virus and did not adhere to the recommended precautions, but Malians were more cooperative. The joint effort of citizens and aid groups ultimately lead to the successful containment of the Ebola virus in Mali.

– Massarath Fatima

Photo: Flickr

A Brief History of Ebola in Sierra Leone
The history of Ebola in Sierra Leone can be traced back to December of 2014. The illness started out slow and unsuspecting as it crept across the land until really solidifying its grasp in May and June.  From then on, the cases of Ebola continued to increase at an exponential rate.

The First Case and Subsequent Infection

The first case was that of an eighteen-month-old boy from a small village in Guinea. He was thought to have been infected by bats in the region. Soon after, other reports of Ebola-like symptoms became rapidly apparent. In March alone, there had been a reported 49 cases and 29 deaths.

One of the next infected was a house guest to the family of the index patient. She traveled home to Sierra Leone from Guinea unknowingly carrying the Ebola virus with her. She died shortly after her return due to the disease; however, her death was not investigated or reported until two other members of her family died.

The epidemic really began to flourish after the death of an infected traditional healer. The healer would treat Ebola patients across the border in Guinea but was a resident of Sierra Leone.

She eventually succumbed to the disease and a funeral service was held on her behalf; this is where the spread in Sierra Leone really increased. Thirteen women, all of whom attended the funeral, contracted the disease and eventually died as well.

A Death-Giving Funeral

Investigation processions commenced proceeding the funeral induced infections and it was found that 365 Ebola-related deaths started from that very funeral. It was also recognized that there were two strands of the virus present amongst the infected from the funeral.

In knowing the two variations of Ebola, researchers were able to retrospectively look for and trace the disease in blood samples. This made the containment of Ebola in Sierra Leone and respective infected regions much easier.

By the summer of 2014, the major town of Kailahun and its neighboring city Kenema were declared to be in a state of emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other affiliated aid agencies provided and concentrated their response teams in the area.

The Ebola Epidemic

Unfortunately, the unsatisfactory public health infrastructure, the impoverished living conditions and the lack of preparedness aided the rapid spreading of the disease. By halfway through July, the aid teams from the World Health Organization buried over 50 bodies in the span of just 12 days in Kailahun alone.

Approximately two years after the first Ebola case was discovered, there were 28,600 cases and a resulting 11,325 deaths reported. The epidemic finally came to an exhausted end when Sierra Leone declared itself officially Ebola-free in March 2016.

Constant Vigilance

Unfortunately, the history of Ebola in Sierra Leone has continued in 2018 as the virus reared its ugly head again in May. The vigilance in regards to Ebola in Sierra Leone improved tremendously over the years since the first epidemic but it is still quite difficult to contain and extinguish.

Countless families and civilians still face the mental effects of the calamity from both the initial epidemic and the most recent devastation.

– Samantha Harward

Photo: Flickr

Poor Mental HealthThe Mental Health Foundation has recognized poverty as a causal factor of mental health problems, but also as a consequence of mental health problems. Poor mental health and poverty often go hand in hand.

Causes and Effects of Poor Mental Health

Mental health issues arise from causes related to the social, economic and physical environments in which an individual lives. Poor mental health in a community is significant in the range of social health problems that contribute to reduced development. The effects include decreased community cohesion, low educational achievement, poor physical health, premature mortality and increased violence.

Recovery from both mental health problems and poverty requires timely, sufficient access to quality resources and care.  Incorporating principles and taking action in devastated areas will substantially improve the quality of life for individuals with mental and psychosocial disabilities. It will also improve development in the individuals themselves, as well as their families and communities.

The Work of Advancing Partners & Communities

Advancing Partners & Communities (ADC), a USAID-funded organization, recognizes the need to address mental health stability to repair impoverished communities. ADC understands that to address inequalities related to mental health and poverty, there must be a change in social arrangements. In order to transform an area’s social arrangement, the ADC has created community healing dialogues (CHDs) in areas of Sierra Leone that have been heavily affected by Ebola outbreaks.

The Ebola outbreak in 2014, as well as the recent outbreak in May of 2018, have left many countries with a sense of devastation and hopelessness.  Many people lost friends and family members, and survivors of the illness have been faced with discrimination and stigmatization. The immense disconnect between community members, as well as the heavy devastation that faces them, have affected the mental health of individuals and communities alike.

Community Healing Dialogues

The CHDs, a type of community-centered regeneration program, work directly with the distressed communities in an effort to change the divided social structure. The dialogues catalyze local action and build social capital, both of which are necessities in overcoming mental health instability and poverty.

The CHDs offer people, specifically survivors ostracized by their community, an outlet to voice their concerns, complaints and ideas for solutions. With the help of the CHD-trained facilitators, members of the community are able to move past stigmas and accept the survivors back into their midst.

By providing peer-support within the community, the CHDs work toward uniting people to build social capital. Social capital creates strong bonds within the community, allowing it to provide protection against health risks, resilience and support for its people, as well as access to social, psychological and economic resources. Conversation is key to building social capital, and social capital is key to developing a strong community.

Healing, for a community devastated by disease or an individual struggling with mental illness, begins with conversation. Assistance offered to people with poor mental health has the ability to impact the wellbeing of not only the individual but the entire community.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Liberia
For many years, the media has portrayed Liberia as a country in perpetual turmoil, referencing events like the civil war and Ebola outbreaks. Although these events have undoubtedly created obstacles for the Liberian government and its citizens, the country has also had notable accomplishments, like the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first black female head of state in the world. The international media omits Liberia’s progress, and that omission is how the media misrepresents Liberia.

Liberia’s Politics and Economy Improve After Civil Wars

More than a decade of political strife from civil war has left more than 250,000 dead and about half of the country’s three million people displaced. The severity of war and widespread poverty in Liberia has received substantial media attention. Fifteen years later, the media still manages to make war the focus rather than the country’s positive economic efforts.

The presidential elections in 2017 attracted some media attention when Joseph Duo, who fought rebels during the second civil war, ran for president. Articles covered the war, the poor economy and political instability yet again instead of positive events. The U.S. Embassy in Monrovia described the 1.5 million Liberians who voted in the election as inspirations for democracy, resulting in the victory of current president George Weah.

The economy has grown since the wars, despite media representation of it being stagnant. Liberia has emphasized the importance of economic growth, aided by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2013, 10 years after the end of the war, GDP growth reached 8.9 percent with natural resources like rubber, palm oil, gold and iron ore greatly contributing to the country’s industry.

Despite the setback of the Ebola outbreak, these sectors have begun to help augment GDP growth in Liberia. In 2017, Liberia experienced 2.5 percent growth, and rates are projected to reach 3.9 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019.

The role of foreign direct investment also indicates economic growth as well as improvements in the country’s stability as foreign companies begin to work in Liberia. Large multinational companies like China’s UnionPay, India’s ArcelorMittal and Russia’s Putu Mining are taking advantage of the new market opportunities in Liberia and have added more than $13 billion to the Liberian economy. These companies’ investments have contributed to the growth and development of the country. The lack of attention given to this growth, however, is how the media misrepresents Liberia.

The Media Misrepresents Liberia by Ignoring Its Progress After Ebola Outbreak

The Ebola virus outbreak, which began in December 2013, affected Liberia the most, and by the time it was eradicated from the country in June 2016, a total of 4,810 people had died. The media heavily covered the progression of the outbreak in West Africa; however, coverage halted after the spread slowed. This lack of discussion is another way the media misrepresents Liberia and its growth. Since the outbreak, Liberia’s healthcare services have improved with the help of the World Bank and other developmental organizations.

Dr. Asinya Magnus, a Liberian doctor who worked in affected hospitals outside the capital of Monrovia, told the World Bank that “Ebola revolutionized health services…with a transition from a closed to an open healthcare system.” Better healthcare systems, more medical supplies and efficient training of medical officials in the country have helped Liberia’s health sector in the aftermath of tragedy.

Liberia still struggles with numerous complicated economic and social issues. These issues, however, remain the overwhelming majority of what is represented in the media. As a small, West African country, the Western media only offers rare glimpses of Liberia to the outside world, and these perpetual negative discussions alter the overall perception of the country and its people. Despite these issues, the country continues to recover and catalyze positive growth and change, hoping that it will eventually receive proper, and positive, representation in the media.

– Matthew Cline
Photo: Flickr

ring vaccinationWith no definite cure, the Ebola virus is highly contagious and easily transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, contaminated objects, broken skin or mucus of infected humans, fruit bats and non-human primates (both living and deceased). Common symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle pain, fatigue, unexplained hemorrhage and vomiting. Symptoms appear anywhere between two to 21 days after infection; the average fatality rate is around 50 percent.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one country that has been affected by the virus. Since the discovery of the Ebola Virus Disease in 1976, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced nine separate outbreaks, the ninth having been declared on May 18, 2018. As of June 19, there have been 61 total cases reported, including 28 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, this current outbreak is significantly lower than that which hit West Africa in 2014, particularly due to the utilization of “ring vaccination” and increased community public health awareness and intervention.

Ring Vaccination in The Democratic Republic of the Congo

While the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced nine Ebola outbreaks, this is the first time ring vaccination has been utilized to contain the virus. A method previously used to control smallpox, ring vaccination seeks to control an infectious disease outbreak by vaccinating and monitoring those close to an infected individual.

The WHO has deployed more than 7,500 doses of a new unlicensed Ebola vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s northwestern province of Equateur, where the outbreak occurred. The vaccine was previously tested in the context of ring vaccination in Guinea at the tail end of West Africa’s 2014 Ebola epidemic. The efficacy was found to be 100 percent with no noted safety concerns.

The vaccines were donated by the pharmaceutical company Merck, along with $1 million for operational costs from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Importance of Community Awareness

Ring vaccination cannot solve everything. Since the vaccine must be stored between negative 60 and negative 80 degrees Celsius, it is difficult to effectively transport and store, especially in remote, rural locations. Additionally, ring vaccination relies on the ability to trace, contact and follow up with those in contact with an infected individual. Local communities must be willing to help. Public outlets such as music, radio programming, phone-in programs and religious and educational institutions are being harnessed to increase awareness regarding Ebola as a medical, hygiene-oriented issue. Engraining these ideas in public culture sets the stage for future Ebola containment and prevention.

Furthermore, these public outlets function in parallel with educational work conducted by organizations such as UNICEF and the WHO. These organizations help to dispel skepticism surrounding Ebola’s legitimacy as a disease and the effectiveness of vaccines while simultaneously addressing the needs and concerns of the local community. For example, the WHO released a 12-step guide in October 2017 describing how to bury those who died from either confirmed or suspected Ebola in a way that is safe and observes local custom. This guide has become a staple aspect of how Ebola is contained in remote areas.

Acknowledging the culture of a community reaches those who are less inclined to take outbreaks seriously. Some residents still consider Ebola a product of witchcraft or a curse rather than an infectious disease and tend to turn to traditional healers for treatment instead of modern medicine. Educating the population about public health while respecting traditional beliefs supports open growth and preparedness for future Ebola cases.

Looking Forward

Over the past decade, Ebola has become one of the most infamous viruses known to humanity. Although significant strides in treatment have been made, the virus continues to pose a threat to large populations of people. Vaccination is only truly effective when people understand its value and are aware of its benefits, but pure awareness cannot beat the virus without a form of treatment. A combination of education and treatment is critical to prevent future Ebola outbreaks.

– Katie Anastas
Photo: Flickr