A health crisis has recently plagued West Africa, namely Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, already claiming over 450 lives out of nearly 800 cases in those countries alone. The World Health Organization has named this Ebola outbreak the largest and deadliest ever seen. Not only is the disease lethal and dangerous, but it is plaguing some of the world’s poorest countries, those with the weakest borders and health systems on the planet. These conditions make for an especially vulnerable situation.
Patients have entered hospitals with dramatic visible bleeding, fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea and hemorrhaging. The fatality rate is extremely high, between 71 to 86 percent. The disease can be transmitted through bodily fluids, contact with blood and secretions. Many infection contractions have been documented with handling of animals such as monkeys and infected chimpanzees.
Ebola first struck humans in 1976 in Yambuku, a small village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is named after the nearby river Ebola. Twenty more outbreaks have been recorded throughout the continent.
This recent outbreak began when Guinea notified WHO of cases of Ebola in March of 2014 and it has since spread across borders into Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The Ebola outbreak has caused chaos in West Africa, where some government authorities are threatening prosecution of families who are hiding Ebola patients. Many faith healers, doctors and other civilians are taking patients from hospitals to perform special prayers in hopes of saving them. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf exclaimed, “The crisis has become a national public health emergency,” and urged everyone to be wary of health guidelines and safety measures.
The World Health Organization has named three main contributing factors to the spread of the disease including improper cultural burial practices, the density of populations in urban areas and the abundance of commercial and social activity along the borders of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
WHO has stressed that traditional funerals and burial practices specifically are perhaps the greatest contributing factor to the spread. Many of the practices involve ritual washing and close contact with the dead body.
WHO has urged these West African countries to take any measures necessary to contain the virus, claiming that these governments must “leave no stone unturned” in their efforts.
An emergency meeting has been called for the crisis in Accra, Ghana where WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo stressed the need for cross-border actions to end the outbreak. He stressed that it is the “largest reported outbreak in terms of number of cases, deaths and geographical spread.”
Health workers have also been affected through their work, with over 60 reported cases and 32 deaths among WHO workers alone.
In order to contain the crisis, Dr. Sambo expressed that communication and collaboration between the governments must be strengthened because crossing borders may play a large part in the spread of the disease.
Health ministers from 11 West African countries, as well as esteemed health officials from around the world, are to attend the emergency meeting. Dr. Sambo claimed that the meeting is expected to agree on “a single inter-country strategy, which will galvanize key actors, bring together expertise and mobilize resources for accelerated actions to combat the epidemic.”
Officials are also confident that this meeting may set a precedent regarding how to handle future outbreaks in the best socio-economic way possible.
– Cambria Arvizo