The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is at its deadliest levels ever according to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) which state that over 635 cases of Ebola have occurred across three countries in the area since the virus was first seen in southeastern Guinea back in March. This is, geographically, the most widespread outbreak on record and is threatening to extend its reach. It has now been confirmed in Liberia and Sierra Leone. A total of at least 399 people have died as a result of the outbreak.
No cure exists for the deadly disease, which has an incubation period of two to 21 days and begins with a fever and fatigue before developing into headaches, vomiting, violent diarrhea, then multiple organ failure and massive internal bleeding. The disease likely reaches humans through infected wildlife, such as fruit bats. The disease claims the life of over half its victims.
One element countering the efforts of those involved is the suspicious nature of the people when it comes to doctors, nurses and even the existence of Ebola itself. In spite of mass public health campaigns regarding the virus and its means of transportation, several communities continue practicing customary burial rituals, which can aid in the spreading of the virus. When people say goodbye to the body, they tend to wash, touch, kiss, and leave presents for the body. The virus is spread through close physical contact via bodily fluids. Possible victims are forbidden from being buried without first being tested and given a death certificate, ensuring proper reporting of those affected by the disease and with whom they have been in contact.
In a recent case in the village of Sadialu, nearby residents burned a facility treatment center down over fears that the drugs being administered were actually causing the disease. The Health Ministry also warned that sheltering an infected person is a crime.
Patients suspected of carrying the Ebola virus often run from treatment centers for the fear of the stigma that might come along with diagnosis, according to health officials. In addition, family members in contact with infected individuals will deny making such contact when asked by health workers. Individuals also continue to travel when sick, raising the concern of cross-border transmission to nearby countries.
Earlier this month, the virus spread to Liberia’s Capital, Monrovia. The death toll in Sierra Leone continues to rise. They have also formed a national task force with meetings and treatment centers in affected areas. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has launched mass media campaigns about educating people and spreading information about the virus.
Roughly 150 WHO experts are now working alongside nearby health ministries and clinics in an effort to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus cases and treat those that are currently affected. WHO is calling for an “urgent need” in the area and announced on Friday that 11 countries in the region will have a meeting in Ghana starting on Wednesday to discuss response efforts to the deadly outbreak in West Africa and the possibility of its spreading to other countries.
By Samantha Levy
The Washington Post