Four West African countries have experienced the deadly Ebola virus outbreak recently, and raises questions on whether or not South Africa would survive such an epidemic. It is reported that over 700 people have died from the Ebola virus outbreak including a doctor in the Liberia region.
U.S. officials are monitoring the deadly virus in West Africa, which has now reached Nigeria, and they are working with governments, hospitals and aid groups to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. Comprehensive support from the U.S. government is aiding the countries most affected by the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that over 1,093 Ebola cases have been reported during July, including over 660 deaths.
The ease with which the Ebola virus can spread raises a concern. It is the bodily fluids, sweat, blood, and saliva of infected people that spread to people who come into contact with diagnosed victims. The highly infectious disease can cause a healthy person to contract the virus from a single drop of sweat. Although there are different strains of Ebola, the current outbreak is linked to the Zaire strain, the deadliest of the group. According to WHO, animals such as gorillas, fruit bats, and monkeys carry the illness and contribute to spreading the virus.
Zaire Ebola is defined as the most deadly of the five Ebola strains. The other four types of Ebola are also highly dangerous and have a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. The Zaire strain of Ebola was named after the virus was detected more than 38 years ago, in a small river in the contemporary country known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the Republic of Zaire. No vaccine or medicine exists for the Ebola virus and isolation of patients is currently the only approach taken. In terms of medical procedures, burying the dead promptly, disposing of medical waste and disinfecting hospitals repeatedly are some of the quickest and safest steps that health professionals and doctors can take.
Research shows that Ebola has an incubation period of 16 days and can take up to two weeks to kill victims once symptoms appear. A compounding problem of the Ebola virus is the large amounts of bleeding victims experience. High fever and profuse sweating can also quickly cause transmission of the disease to others.
Doctors Without Borders (a non-profit that works across the world to provide non-partisan aid in dire medical situations), nurses and other health staff have abandoned their positions after receiving news of confirmed cases of Ebola. Medical staff attending to victims wear positive-pressure suits similar to those worn when dealing with toxic chemicals.
News confirming that the Ebola virus has reached Nigeria is raising world-wide concern. Nigeria has a population of over 170 million people and is Africa’s most populous country. The news that an American doctor who works for a charity in Liberia had contracted the virus is shattering to many.
Questions on whether or not South Africa can cope with an Ebola virus outbreak are being asked. The current focus on the failing public service deliveries and hospitals also raise concerns. During February 2014 only one out of 394 state hospitals met the required standards for cleanliness, safety, and infection control. The Health Minister seemed appalled by the findings during an audit. Reports confirm that the South African healthcare system is collapsing and is unable to deliver decent services to the millions of people depending on state aid.
While government hospitals struggle to cope with overcrowding, insufficient beds for patients, overworked doctors, and unhygienic conditions, millions of people remain desperate for medical service. The failure to supply medical assistance to the poor and needy has reflected a deep concern for any serious virus outbreak reaching South Africa. The continued spread of the deadly Ebola virus reaching more countries in Africa seriously raises the question of whether or not South Africa could survive the pandemonium associated with the disease.
Opinion by Laura Oneale