West Africa is under siege from an outbreak of the Ebola virus that Guinean authorities are calling the worst in seven years. With a death toll so far at 70, and another 11 suspected in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the spread of this intensely infectious disease is moving through an area that is not medically equipped to handle it.
Though a spokesman for the government in Guinea is reported to have said that “there is no reason to panic,” the viewpoint of Damantang Albert Camara is not shared by neighboring country Senegal, which announced on Friday that it would be more vigilant concerning flights travelling between Dakar and Conakry, the capital of the African nation where the confirmation of eight cases of Ebola is certain. Along its southern region of Kolda and Kedougou, however, Senegal has completely closed its border.
If the number of deaths is as high as presumed, this would make it the worst epidemic since 2007, when 187 people died of Ebola in Congo’s Kasai Orientale province called Luebo. Unfortunately many of the cases in Guinea are from the southeast near Sierra Leone and Liberia, and while it took their scientists six weeks to identify what they were dealing with, the virus was rapidly spreading.
The danger now is in Conakry, the capital, which has a population close to two million, hundreds of thousands of whom live in abject poverty in shanties. With Ebola coming out of the disparate villages in the forest, it is suspected that the death toll could skyrocket, even if Sakoba Keita of Guinea’s Health Ministry is claiming that the problem will be mitigated by hand washing and efficient quarantines. Even as he stated this, he added in the news conference that six people from their medical staff were victims of the virus.
Four out of the five known Ebola virus strains cause hemorrhagic fever, while the fifth is apathogenic and does not cause disease, and there is no cure or vaccine capable of halting the spread of infection. It is referred by scientists as a “molecular shark” that causes coagulopathy, stopping the victim’s blood from clotting and resulting in bleeding from mucous membranes and every orifice. Death does not result from this, however, but from multiple organ failure resulting from fluid redistribution, low blood pressure, and localized tissue necroses.
Ebola has killed over 1,500 Africans since it was first discovered in 1976 in the Congo, and with this new spread into the west of the continent, the European Union is offering half a million euros to battle the contagion. From the 111 cases that resulted in 70 deaths, the fatality rate is already at 63 percent, according to the Guinean Health Ministry. Unfortunately, the Zaire strain that has been detected is the same found in the Congo, which has a death rate of 90 percent.
Guinea overall is one of the poorest nations on earth, but with high unemployment and a weak economy despite ample natural resources and mineral wealth, they are languishing in more than weak morality. The UN’s Human Development Index ranks the country as 178 out of 187 due to such human rights abuses as female genital mutilation. With 85 percent of the population being Muslim, and custom following from funerals for mourners to actually touch the bodies of the dead, the spread of the disease is expected to become rampant. As the Ebola virus moves deeper into the capital of Guinea, the World Health Organization will be pressuring the government for involvement.
By Elijah Stephens