Since March, increasing numbers of West African countries have joined Ebola’s list of victims. The outbreak started in Guinea earlier in 2014 where it had the most cases, a reported 258 infected. There were 146 cases confirmed positive by laboratory results, and 174 patients died. It has since spread to Liberia and, most recently, there are signs of Ebola in Sierra Leone.
Ebola, a type of hemorrhagic fever, spreads rapidly through contact with bodily fluids, contaminated corpses or vector animals like fruit bats. Without proper infection control, hospitals, villages and treatment centers can succumb to the disease, poisoning many people in a short amount of time. With no cure or vaccine, Ebola is reaching a mortality rate of almost 90 percent in these West African nations.
Ebola infiltrated the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone earlier this week, with the confirmation of its presence on May 26. This marks Ebola’s first presence in Sierra Leone since the outbreak. Following its arrival, the disease has infected upwards of five people, killing at least four or five with one laboratory confirmed case, according to the Center for Disease Control.
It is quite obvious the disease itself poses enough of a problem, but why could Sierra Leone potentially be at greater risk?
The main concern is whether Sierra Leone will respond correctly to the gravity of the outbreak. An article from May 28 in the Sierra Leonean paper, Sierra Express Media, showed concern for the potential relaxed approach citizens will take toward the growing disease. The author of the article attested to the tendency for the nation to “downplay” the potential danger of such catastrophes and called upon both the citizenship and the government to take the threat of Ebola in Sierra Leone seriously.
While it is difficult to know whether the author’s fears are substantiated, it is important to consider the recent removal of an Ebola patient from a hospital and the implications such actions illuminate. Despite protests from health officials, relatives checked out a potential Ebola patient from the local health center on May 27 for fear of complications in an upcoming move to the hospital.
In doing so, the family risked substantial spread of the highly infectious disease. Whether this shows a lack of concern for the outbreak, we cannot be certain. However, it does indicate that the speed at which Ebola spreads and its high mortality rate is perhaps not understood fully.
So what can be done to ensure that the Sierra Leonean public is engaged and committed to eliminating the disease from the country? So far, most patients are being treated at the Koindu Community Health Centre near the southern border of Guinea. However, because the disease has no vaccine or cure, it remains important that the main priority be limiting the spread of infection.
The aforementioned article in the Sierra Express Media lists 12 ways the nation and its people can respond correctly and with enough force. These suggestions range from limiting the practice of shaking hands to quarantining movement within affected regions to requests for aid from the African Union Health Emergency Fund.
Only time will tell how Sierra Leone handles the tragedy of an Ebola outbreak. Hopefully, with help from the international and African community and correct motivation of the citizens and government, the outbreak can be contained to limit damage and lessons on public health can be learned.
– Caitlin Thompson