The death toll in west and central Africa is rising, surpassing the worst Ebola outbreak since its discovery in 1976. With fatalities easily surpassing 300, healthcare workers from Doctors Without Borders are struggling to reign in the deadly filovirus (a categorization of the Ebola virus), which has cropped up in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Medical supplies are running low for the volunteers, making it harder to treat those infected. It is becoming nigh impossible to keep track of every afflicted person in the affected countries, as many people flee their homes after the virus infiltrates their communities. Last week Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane University’s School of Medicine, warned that the volunteers working to treat Ebola victims were running out of supplies. This in turn may endanger the health and the very lives of those who are fighting the outbreak. Unfortunately, as the sphere of the outbreak spreads, infected persons and volunteers alike are in need of relief.
As medical tools and protective gear dwindle, volunteers in the afflicted regions are scrambling to scrape together what sterile supplies are left. Risking the re-use of any medical supplies, even after sterilization, would put the volunteers and their patients at risk of becoming infected. Sterile equipment and layers of protective clothing are vital to the effort to contain the virus’s spread and treatment of its victims.
Containing the Ebola outbreak is already an inherently dangerous mission for the volunteers, but is now exacerbated, as Doctors Without Borders (also known worldwide as Médecins Sans Frontières, or, MSF) need assistance. The organization is suggesting that they may have trouble sending in more relief workers, at least for the time being. Since the outbreak, the organization has deployed roughly 300 volunteers to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and can no longer afford to be the only health organization on the ground, treating patients. Those at the head of the international agency are asking for help from other health organizations around the world to aide in their relief efforts.
In early July, the World Health Organization, along with regional health officials, will be holding a summit in the region to discuss additional funding, supplying, and staffing of the containment efforts. The 40 tons of medical supplies which were originally flown to the affected countries are now dwindling, and the perimeters of the afflicted area is porous and not entirely known, making it even more difficult to estimate the afflicted regions.
The actions of the volunteers are commendable, and as a result, the normally fatal virus that boasts a 90 percent fatality rate has been lowered to 60 percent. Health officials across the regions are spreading the word that local physicians in affected communities should urge their patients to get a health check at the first sign of any flu-like symptoms. As it stands, the number of infected persons runs at approximately 567 known cases, and the fatality rate approximately 350. The risk of Ebola’s viral infection, despite all precautions, is high, as workers fight for the need keep the transmissions under control. The efforts to quarantine the outbreak, while laudable, may not be enough unless these volunteers receive some urgently-needed relief.
By Hayden Freed