The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to spread. Already the deadliest epidemic of the hemorrhagic virus ever, the current battle against the disease lead to an emergency meeting of area health ministers to develop a common battle plan. As a result, 11 West African nations have agreed on an unprecedented joint strategy to fight and stop the Ebola epidemic.
Part of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), the countries involved include the three nations at the heart of the current deadly endemic – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – which combined reported 759 cases with 467 deaths so far through June 30. Other countries that participated in the emergency summit in Ghana and are working to keep the disease from their own borders include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal. The meeting also involved health experts, Ebola survivors, representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), and Ugandan health officials. Uganda has experience dealing with and quelling Ebola outbreaks, most recently in 2012, and was asked by WHO to provide technical assistance in fighting the virus this time.
As part of the strategy to fight the Ebola epidemic adopted by the 11 African nations and announced late Thursday, the WHO will set up a “sub-regional control center” in Guinea to coordinate the response. The plan involves better case surveillance and reporting, mobilization of community and political leaders to spread understanding about the ravaging fever and ways to contain it, and greater communication between the countries.
The outbreak, which began in March and seemed to be getting under control mid-April, has marched unabated through the region since then including highly populated cities. WHO warned that “drastic action” had become critical to halt the continuing spread of the virus, which has killed up to 90 percent of those infected in previous epidemics. At the closing session this week, WHO’s regional director for Africa Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo noted the critical need for action to end the suffering and deaths caused by Ebola and prevent any further spread. The current outbreak has “been enormous in terms of loss of human lives and negative socioeconomic effects,” Sambo said.
One huge issue that has enabled the disease to spiral out of control in the last two months is cultural believes that run counter to recommended preventative health measures. These traditional practices include hiding and treating Ebola victims at home and touching the body of the deceased at funerals. “These are very high-risk practices leading to extensive exposures to Ebola virus in the community,” according to WHO.
While locals have been distrustful of the public health workers, Sambo pointed out that their efforts on the front lines of the fight against Ebola have been “disproportionately affected” by the disease. There have been more than 60 cases and 32 deaths reported among the health workers.
Dr. Peter Piot, who discovered the Ebola virus approximately 40 years ago, told CNN this week that the current situation fueling the epidemic is “unprecedented.” He noted that this is the first outbreak in West Africa, the first time multiple countries are involved and the first time outbreaks have spread into capital cities. There is no cure for Ebola, and the best way to fight and stem the epidemic is for people in the affected countries and the rest of the 11 African nations is to convince people to avoid close contact with anyone who is infected.
By Dyanne Weiss