ebola in sierra leone
The Ebola outbreak spreading across Africa has become increasingly fatal over the past couple of months. The incubation period for Ebola ranges from two days to 21 days, and when not treated early on, has about a 90 percent fatality rate.

According to WHO, 630 people total in the West African countries of Sierra Leone (442 people infected, 206 deaths), Guinea (410 people infected, 310 deaths) and Liberia (196 people infected, 116 deaths) lost their lives to Ebola. One of the most recent victims of the disease includes one of the leading doctors in Sierra Leone, Sheik Umar Khan, who contracted the virus while attempting to help treat others afflicted by Ebola.

Psychologist Ane Bjoru, who has begun work in Sierra Leone, however, explains the impact of Ebola beyond purely the physical effects of the virus. In her article in The Guardian, she explains that as a non-medical staff member, a large part of her job is helping hygienists, who have to deal with disposing of the dead bodies, deal with this “new and disturbing experience” and much of her work “involves helping them with counseling and support.”

Ane Bjoru explains that to treat Ebola in Sierra Leone the hygienists are responsible for cleaning the blood and stool produced by the patients, and are confronted with a confusing mix of emotions when dealing with the dead bodies. They are filled with sadness from the loss, fear from the contagious bodies, and especially in Sierra Leone where the dead are usually dealt with by the elders of the society, some of the hygienists feel they are too young to be involved with this part of the life cycle.

Ane Bjoru, through her work, seeks to build a wider community of people to help citizens of Sierra Leone deal with the emotional consequences of the Ebola outbreak.

— Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: World Health Organization, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, BBC News
Photo: The Guardian

The governments of many West African countries reportedly believe that the current Ebola outbreak could get worse due to citizens refusing treatment for the virus. The epidemic spans several countries, ranging from Guinea (where the outbreak was first spotted four months ago) to Sierra Leone. Despite the severity of the epidemic, health workers have struggled to administer aid due to uncooperative citizens.

Ebola, first detected in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the mid-1970s, is a disease spread through contact with the blood and bodily fluids of infected persons or animals. It can cause fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. It is considered to be one of the world’s most deadly viruses, leaving only 10 percent of those who become infected alive.

“We are seeing a lot of mistrust, intimidation and hostility from part of the population,” said Marc Poncin, the emergency coordinator for a medical charity called Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). “What we are seeing are villages closing themselves off, not allowing us to enter, sick people hidden in the community. They don’t come and seek healthcare anymore.”

Citizens have been reportedly going into hiding, believing that a hospital visit is paramount to a death sentence. Health officials have been chased from villages, and in the eastern part of Sierra Leone, officials had to fire tear gas to prevent relatives of the recently deceased from claiming bodies to bury them; interfering with the infected bodies allows for the disease to spread.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 888 Ebola cases have been reported, resulting in around 539 deaths. The WHO has labeled the epidemic as “precarious”. To handle the increasing amount of infections, MSF doubled its number of available beds. Yet, the organization feels that this outbreak could just be the “tip of the iceberg” – the beginning of a much more serious problem.

“If we are to break the chain of Ebola transmission,” said Manuel Fontaine, the Regional Director for West and Central Africa for UNICEF, “it is crucial to combat the fear surrounding it and earn the trust of communities. We have to knock on every door, visit every market and spread the word in every church and every mosque.”

In order to treat people effectively, citizen cooperation with health officials is necessary. According to Poncin, people in Gueckedou, Guinea shun the local center, where around 20 percent of the infected patients survive.

“People see people arrive more or less OK and then they die there. So they start to mistrust the treatment center,” said Poncin.

The same is true for the center in Kenema, located in the eastern region of Sierra Leone. According to Augusta Boima, a Red Cross worker, the people believe that going to the hospital will result in their death.

Many local residents have begun to associate Ebola with witchcraft, while others consider it an evil brought by aid workers. This has led to a clash of beliefs, as it is customary for families in the West African region to wash the bodies of their deceased. However, the bodies of those affected and killed by Ebola are laden with the highly contagious disease.

“For us to now have to give our beloved dead relatives away to people who will wrap them in a plastic bag and dump them in a grave without us washing and honoring them is hard to stomach,” said a Sierra Leone leader.

There are now around 603 Ebola-caused deaths and according to the WHO the situation is only worsening. Eighty-five new cases were reported in the week of July 8, and 68 deaths were reported from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in the past week.

– Monica Newell

Sources: Reuters 1, Huffington Post, Reuters 2
Photo: ThisIs50

ebola patients
The World Health Organization is continuing its struggle to contain the deadly Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It reported July 11 that since the outbreak began in February, there have been 888 total cases and 539 deaths. Recently, numbers have escalated drastically in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ebola’s most recognizable symptoms are fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. The virus is highly contagious, and is spread through contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. Ebola is also fatal 90 percent of the time, but there is a chance for survival if the victim can get proper and timely medical attention. Effective treatment for Ebola requires cooperation from West African locals to allow contacting and assessment of suspected cases. If a person tests positive for the virus, he or she must be isolated in a treatment center.

However, locals have recently begun to mistrust the health centers and foreign aid workers. Because so few of the Ebola patients that enter the health centers make it out alive, the locals have started blaming the facilities. They have become so suspicious that they have begun to avoid treatment, chase away health workers and vandalize health centers.

Many villagers, especially in Liberia, do not even believe that the disease exists.

In two weeks, a treatment center in Gueckedou, Guinea went from treating approximately 25 Ebola patients to one suspected case. What seemed at first to be a success story was in fact the opposite. It is almost certain that rather than the disease waning, a considerable number of suspected cases are hiding out in the forest from medical workers.

Villages are now sealing themselves off to prevent health care workers from entering. They have even started blocking roads and tearing down bridges. Locals are either hiding their sick families and friends or seeking out help from traditional healers.

Due to the contagion risk associated with bodily fluids, authorities say the remains of Ebola victims must be disposed of safely and securely in body bags. But, this interferes with West Africa’s traditional methods of burial, in which the family of the deceased must wash and bury the body.

Many locals believe that cadavers are being dismantled and used for experiments or witchcraft rituals, so they try to recover the bodies. In Sierra Leone, authorities even had to fire tear gas to prevent family members from seizing the body bags.

West African governments met at a WHO sponsored event earlier this month and agreed upon a cooperative regional strategy. A key aspect of the strategy involves checkpoints. At roads leading into and out of Kenema, Sierra Leone, authorities have set up checkpoints at which to question travelers and take temperatures.

Yet, people are so afraid of being screened for Ebola and taken to hospitals that now they have begun to avoid the city.

Experts at the WHO and UNICEF say more effort and funding is needed. Misplaced fear within the communities must be addressed before any strategy can have a chance of success.

 – Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: NPR, Huffington Post
Photo: CBSNews

ebola cases
According to the World Health Organization, the number of Ebola cases jumped by 38 percent from the week of June 25 to July 2. With almost 500 fatalities and at least 800 known cases and rising, the disease is quickly being penned a global crisis by health officials.

The highly contagious disease, which is spread through any exchange of fluids, has an incubation period between two and 21 days, making it incredibly difficult to determine if you have the disease before traveling. Equally as startling, the disease has no cure — and as many as 90 percent of its victims die.

The current outbreak of the virus is the worst it’s ever been. The disease appeared to have been cut off by late April, when, after 74 deaths, Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, said the situation was “well in hand,” and predicted there would be hardly any new cases.

Yet a mix of highly mobile populations, mistrust of outsiders and a fear of Western medicine have allowed the disease to spread quickly in a short period of time. In fact, those living in areas most profoundly impacted by the disease are also those most ignorant toward its existence in the first place. The Red Cross in Guinea had to temporarily suspend some of its operations in the country after staff working on Ebola were threatened on Wednesday, and health officials who have worked on the case before have expressed the unique difficulty of this current outbreak.

“I have covered six previous Ebola outbreaks and this is unprecedented,” said Michael Van Herp, an epidemiologist in Belgium. “It is unique in terms of the number of cases, where they are and how they are spread.”

In all three countries of the disease’s outbreak — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — people are “in denial,” according to Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s deputy health minister. “People are afraid but do not believe the disease exists,” she said. In fact, because the disease is still contagious even after the person’s death, the two main modes of transmission — home care and during funerals — are increasingly prevalent, and will remain so until the countries’ citizens choose to take the necessary precautions against contracting the disease.

While news of the severity of the disease is now prevalent, many hope it isn’t too late. After being in denial for so long, it will be incredibly hard to manage the outbreak, especially given the disease’s resilience. While time is slowly running out, we must begin to act hastily to put a stop to the massive outbreak.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Voice of Russia UK, The Guardian, The Daily Beast
Photo: Macleans

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 

Sources: Independent, UN, National Geographic
Photo: Mirror


Read about The Borgen Project calling on Congress to address Ebola.


An outbreak of Ebola has been linked to more than 330 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

The outbreak, which is ravaging West Africa, is “completely out of control,” says a senior official of Doctors without Borders, who also notes the organization is stretched to its limit in response to the epidemic. Bart Janssens, the director of operations for MSF in Brussels, reported that the epidemic is now in its second wave and, more than ever, the international organizations and governments providing aid need to send in more health experts, as well as increase the public educational messages regarding how to stop the spread of the disease.

The outbreak, which began in Guinea earlier this year, appeared to slow before ravaging in recent weeks, including spreading to the Liberian capital. With multiple locations of breakout and movements across several nations, the outbreak shows no signs of slowing. Janssens noted, “I’m absolutely convinced that this epidemic is far from over and will continue to kill a considerable amount of people, so this will definitely end up the biggest ever.”

This is the highest number of deaths associated with the Ebola virus, which is considered one of the most virulent in the world. At this point, Liberia has declared a national emergency.

With a real political commitment from the governments of the infected nations and a more effective response, the epidemic could perhaps be controlled. However, currently the Ebola outbreak is the worst it has ever been, “It’s the first time in an Ebola epidemic where [Doctors Without Borders] teams cannot cover all the needs, at least for treatment centers,” Janssens said.

The underdevelopment of these countries plays an important role in the spread of the virus. “The affected countries are at the bottom of the human development index,” Janssens noted. “Ebola is seriously crippling their capacities to respond effectively in containing the spread.”

— Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: CBS News, USA Today
Photo: CNN

The World Health Organization has reported that between May 29 and June 1, 21 deaths in Guinea were attributed to a recent outbreak of Ebola. Those deaths coincided with 37 newly identified Ebola cases in Guinea and 13 in Sierra Leone during the same period. So far, the outbreak, which began in February, has claimed 208 lives in Guinea. There are now 328 confirmed or suspected Ebola cases in Guinea and 79 cases in Sierra Leone along with six confirmed Ebola-caused deaths in that country.

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people and has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Recent medical studies have linked the disease to fruit bats. Outbreaks of the Ebola virus are most common in remote areas of Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. The most recent outbreak began in the southern region of Gueckedou in Guinea near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The original outbreak in 1976 left 280 dead.

To this day, there is no specific treatment for Ebola. People afflicted with the disease often suffer from severe dehydration and sometimes fluid injection is not a sufficient remedy. It is known, however, that those who become infected need intensive care. This often puts health care workers at risk because of their close proximity and likelihood of coming into contact with bodily fluids. It is for this reason that the World Health Organization is assisting the affected areas of Africa by providing proper health care training that could potentially keep the death toll from rising even higher. Recently, a three person team from Harvard and Tulane universities went to Sierra Leone to assist in Ebola detections.

Sierra Leone has recently prescribed several travel restrictions and banned trips to Guinea to attend funerals. These measures are intended to stem Ebola spread. Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that this outbreak has been sustained through faulty medical practices and common interactions with bodily fluids from humans and animals. However, as the sources have become clearer, the death toll continues to rise.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: Boston Globe, NBC, Huff Post, Aljazeera, Fox News, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: The Times

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

Sources: BBC, Aljazeera, Aljazeera 2, CDC, CDC 2, WHO, The Advocate, The Guardian, Chicago Tribune

The current Ebola epidemic in Guinea has drawn doctors, nurses, and epidemiologists from across the globe to help prevent the further transmission of the virus. Not surprisingly, it has also drawn anthropologists.

Many international healthcare workers don’t understand the importance of anthropologists in a disease-outbreak setting, but they are critical in communicating with locals about the body and disease.

An anthropologist’s job is to understand local customs and fears, in this case regarding disease. They work to get communities to cooperate with healthcare workers, which is often very difficult in a foreign setting where the local people have a different understanding of health and disease.

Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University, states that today efforts to contain outbreaks such as Ebola must be “culturally sensitive and appropriate…otherwise people are running away from actual care that is intended to help them.”

Hewlett was invited to join a World Health Organization Ebola team during the 2000 outbreak in Uganda. His experiences there prove the vital role that anthropologists play in disease outbreak efforts.

In a report on his experiences in Uganda, Hewlett noted that healthcare workers in the field were having a difficult time convincing the local people to bring their sick family members to clinics and isolation wards. They feared the healthcare workers and thought that once their family member went into the isolation ward they would never come out. Not only that, but the deceased were often disposed of quickly to prevent transmission and relatives were often uninformed about the death of their family member.

“The anger and bad feelings about not being informed were directed toward health care workers in the isolation unit. This fear could have been averted by allowing family members to see the body in the bag and allowing family members to escort the body to the burial ground,” says Hewlett.

The other job of anthropologists is to help doctors understand how the local people perceive the disease.

For example, in the case of Uganda, the locals saw Ebola as a “gemo”, or a bad spirit, which killed people who didn’t honor the gods. Doctors used this traditional belief to show that the gemo could catch you if you stood too close to a sick person.

The current outbreak in Guinea has attracted hundreds of field workers, including anthropologists, to curb the spread of the disease. It is the Zaire strain of Ebola, which is the most dangerous, killing 9 out of 10 of its victims.

Healthcare workers in Guinea have their work cut out for them and anthropologists will be key in communicating with the local people.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: MSF, NPR
Photo: RT

As one of the most fatal, incurable diseases in human history, Ebola functions as a deadly virus that induces the severe hemorrhaging of internal organs, causing death in an estimated 90 percent of cases. A popular theory concerning the origins of the virus is that Ebola was first introduced to humans through contact that an individual may have had with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected animal. The individual subsequently succumbed to the deadly virus, not before spreading the disease to other people, creating an epidemic. Early signs of infection are a sore throat, red eyes, rash, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and bleeding from bodily orifices, such as the eyes or nose.

An estimated duration of survival after initial infection and after the incubation period ranges, on average, from 2-21 days. Initially identified in 1976 after surfacing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, the Ebola virus has made a reappearance in the West African country of Guinea. The virus spreads through the direct transmission infected blood, mucus, and other bodily fluids. Burial ceremonies in which individuals are exposed to direct contact with the infected body also contribute to the transmission of the virus, and as such it has infiltrated the neighboring country of Liberia.

Although outbreaks of Ebola have surfaced in the past, following the initial identification of the virus in 1976, Doctors Without Borders alleges that this particular outbreak may be the most severe yet. A salient factor unique to this outbreak is its geography – this is the first time that Ebola has surfaced in Guinea. Although the virus typically appears in rural areas especially near rainforests, the virus has not been localized in specific areas of the country. For instance, cases miles apart have surfaced throughout Guinea. Therefore, this instance of the outbreak is much harder to contain than previous incidences.

Furthermore, according to health experts, although the disease is most often fatal, infection requires extremely close contact with the infected individual or engagement in avoidable activities such drugs. Additionally, during the incubation period, which can last up to 21 days, the individual is unable to transfer the disease to others. Once symptoms arise and transmission is viable, surrounding individuals are likely to stay away from the victim since their symptoms are generally severe and obvious. Therefore, it is unlikely that a widespread, global epidemic will occur. As is the case with most disease outbreaks, individuals in affected regions are strongly urged to take proper precautions while individuals residing in unaffected areas are advised on to not create undue panic.

However, other nations are already taking precautions of their own. For instance, Morocco has increased its border control,  Senegal has shut down its borders with Guinea and France has instructed its medical workers to watch out for signs of the virus in the local population. Despite fears that the virus may spread through airplane flights, the World Health Organization has not issued any restrictions on flights, since individuals who show signs of the virus are typically too ill to travel, and therefore risks of airplanes transmitting the virus are not a significant cause of concern. Although no viable treatments against Ebola currently exist, experimental drug treatments are undergoing examination and testing.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: USA Today, Time, WHO
Photo: New Vision