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ebola treatment unitThe Ebola epidemic has been a main topic of discussion for months now, and while the U.S. did briefly face a couple of cases, the center of the diseases is taking place primarily in Central Africa.

There are numerous reasons why Ebola has continued to spread and defy all attempts at containment. With widespread lack of vaccinations paired with unsanitary living conditions, it is no surprise that the disease has continued to thrive for most of 2014. At the beginning of 2015, new ideas for combating the Ebola spread are being implemented.

While U.S. advocates are providing as many vaccinations as possible right now, a new solution may offer a decline in mortality rates by changing one line of defense that may be a bit easier to control: clinic conditions.

African temperatures average in the upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit each day, and the intense heat is detrimental to patients losing precious body fluids from lying in the suffocating heat. Tents and tarps are set up in the typical Ebola clinic center, attempting to shield patients, volunteers and doctors from the intense heat. But as sweat, bugs and more people gather under the tents, patients and volunteers alike become quickly dehydrated and exhausted from the relentless sun.

A new Ebola treatment unit, or ETU, opened in Zwerdu — about 300 miles from Liberia’s capital of Monrovia — and is the first of its kind to feature bamboo-lined walls and a thin, tarp-like roof.

Thomas ten Boer of the German non-governmental organization Welthungerhilfe raves about the new structures. “I used bamboo because it is hollow and helps absorb the heat … Feel the plastic on the inside of the tent, it is cool to the touch,” he said. American aid organizations are excited about the new ETUs as well and USAID is set to build four ETUs in Liberia this year.

All construction materials, including the bamboo, are purchased locally, which also stimulates the economy while keeping costs down for the buyers. Local workers turned out to aid volunteers in the construction of the ETU. “You include the community and it helps them accept your project and gives them hope,” said ten Boer. For head engineer Daniel Dined, this project hit home. A Liberian native himself, Dined explained, “I have been working for humanitarian organizations … but to work for the Liberian people, that’s my dream and I love it.”

USAID hopes to have all four clinics open by Christmas, but as Dr. Elsie Karmbor of the Zwedru County Health Office said, “we pray that no patient will [have to go there].”

– Alaina Grote

Sources: Doctors Without Borders, USAID, YouTube, World Health Organization
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

dietary supplements
It is no surprise that a world of nearly seven billion people produces imbalances. One of the planet’s many documented inequalities concerns the fight against malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition affects nearly two billion people. Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger.” While those suffering from malnutrition may receive enough food, they do not obtain enough micronutrients and minerals.

The German NGO Welthungerhilfe and child aid network Terre des Hommes published a report in July 2014 addressing the potential for fortified food to combat this problem. The report highlights the ongoing debate among the private sector, the government and the food industry as to whether food fortification is a mere “techno-fix” or a potential solution in the fight against hidden hunger.

According to the report, it is possible, albeit challenging, to provide populations with enhanced or fortified foods.

“Mass fortification is the preferred approach when a majority of the population is at risk of a particular nutrient deficiency, whereas targeted fortification is designed for defined population subgroups,” states the report.

Yet a sustained reliance upon enhanced foodstuffs could result in natural nutritional practices becoming obsolete. For example, breastfeeding allows infants to receive a host of nutrients via a mother’s breast milk. Health experts have warned that forgoing such practices for nonstandard approaches could prove costly.

Welthungerhilfe secretary general Wolfgang Jamann noted that parts of Africa place a rather significant reliance upon corn porridge. While those who consume the product may not necessarily be starving, such a diet restricts them from the necessary vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy life. In Asian countries, where rice is a popular food, a lack of Vitamin A can lead to numerous health issues.

Though such dietary supplements may provide a possible antidote to the nutritional issue affecting impoverished people worldwide, it is likely not a long term solution. Health experts continue to believe a balanced diet holds the key to remedying the issue of hidden hunger.

The authors of the report noted that fortification programs should “be implemented together with poverty reduction initiatives and other agricultural, health, education and social intervention strategies that promote the consumption and utilization of adequate quantities of nutritious foods. Otherwise, they risk ending up as a short-term technical fix to the multi-faceted problem of hidden hunger.”

Though obtaining such a diet may prove difficult for many, it is most likely a more sustainable, safer and healthier option.

Ethan Safran

Sources: allAfrica, Micronutrient Initiative, Welthungerhilfe
Photo: JHSPH Open