Ebola Outbreak Funding Gap
Amid efforts to suppress the coronavirus effects, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now facing its 11th outbreak of Ebola since the discovery of the disease in 1976. The current outbreak officially began on June 1, 2020 — causing 24 deaths and garnering the attention of government officials and international agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The start of this outbreak coincides with the end of the 10th outbreak, which finished just 25 days earlier. Further complicating the latest outbreak is the fact that it comes when much of the international world is focusing on protecting themselves against the spread of the new coronavirus. As a result, there is an Ebola outbreak funding gap for what is required to sufficiently protect citizens of the DRC from the further spread of Ebola.

The Gap

The WHO reports that the $1.75 million raised so far will not last long enough to end the current outbreak. The organization estimates that the money will only last a few more weeks and that the unique location of the outbreak (in a more forested part of the country) is too costly to regularly send health officials.

This lack of funding could be a step backward for the country’s progress in limiting the disease. An outbreak in 2018 killed only 33 people, but from 2014 to 2016, 11,000 people died as a result of the disease. The main difference between the two time periods was the level of preparation and emergency funds to rely on, both of which are now decreasing due to the estimated gap.

The funding gap could have a direct impact on the current outbreak and may become a significant factor in the potential for new outbreaks. E.g., the recurrence of outbreaks is due to the virus’s presence in animals across the country. Therefore, there will most likely be another outbreak for which the WHO needs to be prepared.

Help from the United States?

The United States has donated more than $600 million to prevent the spread and minimize the devastation of previous outbreaks of the disease, in the DRC. This money has gone to building and managing health facilities, tracking the spread of the disease and evolving several safety measures for the country’s citizens. Those funds also went toward developing the two effective vaccines for Ebola and for transferring the dosages to citizens in need. Only a fraction of this money could make up for the lack of funding that the western part of the DRC needs today. Still, with most efforts and donations going toward coronavirus relief — very little attention has been placed on the current outbreak. This lack of attention contributes to the existing Ebola outbreak funding gap.

Looming Threats and Remaining Vigilant

A great challenge with this disease is that it could spread rapidly in the absence of a vaccine. Health officials typically vaccinate using a ring method — meaning they treat people that are near the center of the disease. Without the funds needed to disseminate the vaccine, the country’s infection rates could go up dramatically.

Officials are aware of this potential future, as the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states, “This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face. Although much of the world’s attention is on the pandemic, the WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.” Some are urging other countries and organizations to take on this mindset. Aid from the United States could prove a significant help in preventing loss of life in the DRC by closing the Ebola outbreak funding gap.

Aiden Farr
Photo: Pixabay

Distrust Breeds EbolaMore than 1,100 people in Congo have died due to the recent Ebola outbreak. New treatment facilities, additional health personnel, improved vaccinations, and awareness campaigns should effectively be controlling the spread of Ebola. In spite of this, distrust is breeding Ebola as citizens reject available aid.

However, violence and distrust are increasing the risk of Ebola in Congo. This Ebola outbreak is the second worst outbreak in history and the solution is extremely complicated. Local militias in Congo have been burning down clinics and threatening physicians since January. Historically, residents have had to fear for their own safety and flee local armed extremist groups.

Distrust of Aid

Now, with the recent outbreak of Ebola, already vulnerable communities are experiencing a double layered threat of violence and disease. Reports show that the number of people infected with Ebola rises after violent conflicts. These areas are often unsafe for health workers, increasing the risk for Ebola to spread. Much of the violence pointed toward clinics and health workers stems from a widespread distrust of the government and foreign aid. This distrust is breeding Ebola, unnecessarily increasing the risk of contraction.

Despite these challenges, many international organizations are still trying to control the spread of Ebola in Congo and provide aid to those already infected. The World Health Organization reported 119 attacks on health workers. This has inspired international organizations to approach their methods for care differently. Aid workers are attempting to provide correct information to the population in Congo in order to debunk the propaganda being spread about the government and international aid. Often in public, health workers downplay their role to try and build trust within communities. The International Rescue Committee states, “Our staff has to lie about being doctors in order to treat people.”

Continued Support

The New Humanitarian is exploring why a deep distrust of government and foreign aid exists in Congo. Social media seems to be a large player in spreading misinformation. As such, 86 percent of adults surveyed in Beni and Butembo stated they do not believe that Ebola is real. Others believe Ebola is a method used by the government to destabilize certain areas. Similarly, many people fear treatment centers are making Ebola worse. Facebook and WhatsApp are major players in spreading this false information. The Ministry of Health has said they are working to monitor these pages and adapt local messages to make sure the truth is out there.

The control of Ebola is entirely possible through vaccines and prevention efforts. Instead, distrust is breeding Ebola in Congo as risk increases. Working to end this distrust and limit violence toward health workers through the spread of true information, is essential in stopping the spread of Ebola. The World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and other health agencies and organizations are working to provide more aid to those affected by Ebola, hoping to prevent spread beyond the region.

Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

On Saturday May 9, the World Health Organization  (WHO) released an official statement announcing the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

The announcement came 42 days after the burial of the last laboratory-confirmed Ebola patient, a woman from near the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Health officials monitored all 332 people who may have been exposed to the woman. None developed symptoms.

Most people infected with Ebola show symptoms within 21 days of being exposed to the virus. However, as a precautionary measure, the WHO waits an additional 21 days before declaring that a country or region is Ebola-free.

During the outbreak’s peak in August and September of 2014, Liberia reported over 300 new cases every week. Lack of treatment beds and protective equipment made it difficult to provide necessary care to an increasing number of patients.

Dr. Alex Gasasira, WHO representative to Liberia, traveled with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to visit hospitals after the formal statement was released. The overall mood seemed hopeful. “The health workers are dancing and clapping and singing ‘no more Ebola,’” Dr. Gasasira said.

The WHO praised such health workers, along with ambulance drivers and burial teams, for their courageous efforts in handling the crisis. “[They] were driven by a sense of community responsibility and patriotic duty to end Ebola and bring hope back to the country’s people,” the official statement read.

The report also credited the leadership of President Sirleaf and the support of the international community with the efficient handling of the crisis.

However, the U.N. health agency will “remain on high alert” as it tracks Ebola cases in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

On Monday, May 11, people gathered in the streets of Monrovia to attend the government-held celebrations. President Sirleaf held a moment of silence at the event for the thousands of Liberians who died from the disease. She also pledged her support for the governments and people of Sierra Leone and Guinea. “Until they are free, totally free, we are not free,” she said.

The WHO has termed the interruption of Ebola transmission in Liberia a “monumental achievement.” In the coming weeks, the Liberian people will begin to rebuild a country devastated by the horrors of an epidemic. Children have already started to return to schools, with new practices, such as hand-washing programs, in place.

The sense of victory is a cautious one, however. Until the entire region is Ebola-free, officials will continue to monitor the borders between Liberia and neighboring infected countries.

– Caitlin Harrison

Sources: United Nations, World Health Organization, NPR, US News and World Report, New York Times

healthcare and income inequality
While Ebola continues to spread in West Africa, one of the main dialogues focuses on the disconnect between the rural poor and accessible healthcare. Though this is not uniquely an Ebola problem nor a West African one, the rural poor populations have exacerbated this epidemic.

Many rural Africans, particularly in regions of East Africa, are still treated by local healers, many of whom are not certified and perpetuate myths about illnesses. With these healers, who are affordable for many lower income families, improper health care treatments are provided. Thus healthcare and income inequality spur one another on in turn.

Without access to the more costly but effective doctors, illnesses like Ebola and HIV/AIDS run rampant due to misdiagnoses and improper courses of treatment. Even with hospital care, the cost of travel to medical centers (usually over long distances), compounded with the cost of treatment and prescriptions, is often too great for people to pay.

Instead of getting proper treatment, poor populations are forced to settle for secondary, substandard care. In the cases that they are able to get free assistance, the demand is often too great to be supported by rural clinics, which are often sporadic in nature.

Part of the problem of such pandemics is the inaccessibility of rural patients. Because of the lack of money these people have for travel to the cities, doctors are instead forced to go out into the rural regions and try and find the people affected with the disease. But because newcomers are unfamiliar, villagers meet the doctor at times with hesitancy and confusion.

With the increase in medical technology and quality healthcare, poverty still remains a barrier to access – for both sides. The inability to access and properly treat a large proportion of the infected public has caused epidemics to be much worse. In order to help prevent future outbreaks, global health officials are reevaluating how to prepare and eliminate the poverty barrier in future cases.

Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Reuters, Southern Times Africa
Photo: knowledge.allianz

ebola outbreak
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has claimed over 518 lives, making it one of the worst outbreaks of its kind. Despite containment efforts, the disease has spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, threatening to spread even more. A multilateral effort by the United States Center for Disease Control, the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and several other nonprofits has been ongoing in these countries since the first reported cases in March.

The WHO has narrowed down the main causes of mismanagement for the epidemic and hopes that in future outbreaks, better measures can be taken. For one, the aid of foreign doctors has been rejected in many rural areas where customs are incompatible with Western medicine. Additionally, people have been able to move between villages and countries with great ease. Since symptoms of the disease might take a few days to present themselves, many people unknowingly spread the virus. The assistance of Western doctors is viewed by some villagers as an affront to their traditional culture and medicine, and there has been continued resistance from locals. The Ebola virus is also highly stigmatized, so many refuse treatment and deny contact with the infected, which makes it difficult to prevent contamination.

Improper burials and handling of corpses have ignored WHO regulations. Many corpses are buried under the grounds of homes, which can facilitate corpse to human transmission of the virus. WHO and the national governments have been trying to find a way to honor traditions while halting the transmission of the virus. The mistrust of doctors has only exacerbated the problem, and prevented any change in local traditions.

Relief efforts have been weakened in the wide area affected by the outbreak. As the number of mobile aid workers who can travel to the remote regions and monitor potential outbreaks is limited, the region requires increased assistance.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: International Business Times, USA Today
Photo: GuardianLv