Ebola, the biological threat that is ravaging West Africa will take at least six months to be brought under control, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF, who is currently treating cases of Ebola and racing to find a cure for the disease, believe the situation in West Africa is deteriorating faster than they like and can respond to efficiently. This led to the observation that the spread of the Ebola virus may last longer than expected.
Confirming reports by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the Ebola outbreak is vastly underestimated, Joanne Liu, the president of MSF, spoke about the issue at Geneva. She called for extraordinary measures to battle the boutade of Ebola that began in February earlier this year. The outbreak first reported in Guinea spread to Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone in West Africa. Of the 2,127 cases reported, 1,145 have been subsequentlydied. Just this week alone, 76 people have died of Ebola. The spread in Guinea seems to have reduced to a slower pace, but Liberia is slowly becoming the focus of much-needed medicinal aid. Radio stations report cases of Ebola-related incidents all day to keep the unaffected informed. Liu believes that unless Liberia is stabilized, the entire region will be at risk.
Sounding optimistic in the face of the national disaster in Africa, Liu said that she needed months, not weeks for committed health agencies to work on stabilizing the region. Liu also called for a stronger leadership from WHO and help from other countries if they wanted to contain the outbreak. Unless international help came in time, Liu fears that the Ebola virus outbreak may last longer than she expected.
Thus far, MSF and WHO have been able to diagnose the common symptoms of Ebola as bleeding, high fever, and damage to the central nervous system. Fruit bats, which are the natural carriers of the Ebola virus, must be avoided. While the virus incubates two to 21 days, the symptoms can help detect the disease. This has helped reduce the fatality rate from 90 percent to about 55 percent. At this point, there is no cure or specific vaccine, although reports of untested drugs to cure the disease have circulated. Recovery is possible to a certain extent, if patients can be rehydrated regularly in cases of those suffering with vomiting and diarrhea.
The virus is transmitted via direct contact with bodily fluids from affected patients is also reported to cause internal bleeding and external hemorrhaging leading to organ failure. The WHO declared the epidemic a global health emergency, but assured people who are frequent fliers that it is not a risk for them. The risk of contracting the disease remained low, as it is not airborne.
Following this announcement from WHO, Kenya continued its airways service to the affected parts of West Africa. This decision has been the subject of debate at least in Kenya. The Daily Nation‘s Mutuma Mathiu called the move reckless, while The Star said that Kenya’s decision to hold on to West African routes, during an Ebola outbreak, spells long-term damage to its brand. The Standard, sees the business end of Kenya’s decision to continue services, but noted that the safety of Kenyans must supersede any economic gain. George Bodo, a writer for Business Daily in Kenya, sees it differently. In his article, Bodo spoke of compensation for the Kenyan airlines if they decided to stop services. He says that the high-margin flights to West Africa form a lucrative business portfolio for the Kenyan Airlines, and if stopped, could do much damage to the stock price.
A regional carrier, Gambia Bird, joined Kenya Airways and other airlines in temporarily suspending services to the West African countries. Titus Naikuni, the CEO of Kenya Airways, said that the decision to suspend services to the affected regions was based on regulation from the National Health Ministry.
WHO declared the global emergency last week after staff reported that the cases did not show the large scale of the crisis. After the experimental drug ZMapp produced positive results in the case of two American aid workers, WHO endorsed the drug that is in short supply.
Gregory Hartl says experts are combing each street and house in Sierra Leone to look for more cases and discovering an increase in the tally of people affected. A treatment facility set up in Monrovia, Liberia saw its 80 beds filled up as soon as it opened, with scores of affected patients turning up the following day to be treated. To combat the lack of medical care for the increasing numbers of patients, Tolbert Nyenswah, the assistant Health Minister of Liberia, told BBC that a new 120-bed facility will be opened on Saturday. The new center may be upgraded to 300 beds and is located outside Monrovia.
Plan International’s Tarnue Karbbar, who is working with the international aid group in Northern Liberia, said that most cases went undocumented. Many sick people were either hidden or buried even before the teams could check the area for help. Classrooms turned into makeshift isolation wards for Ebola patients, as the death toll rose to 355, according to Ellen Johnson, the Liberian president of the aid organization. Liberia may have declared a state of medical emergency a little too late, but as Johnson put it, the government is doing its best. Getting technical help, the right supplies, and personnel with the ability to deal with the outbreak and prevent health workers, as well as others from contracting the disease remains crucial.
The Ebola virus has hurt the chances of African nations participating in the Youth Olympic Games in China later this year. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) directed the African nations hit by the Ebola virus to refrain from participating, which prompted Nigeria and Sierra Leone to withdraw from the event. Meanwhile, reports of Ebola-like symptoms have been reported in other parts of the world and safety measures are being implemented. The WHO endorsement of experimental drug ZMapp may help contain the Ebola virus, but complete containment of the disease may take longer than expected.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan