With the Ebola virus death toll this year topping 2,100 and climbing, the health officials and governments in West Africa are desperately trying new measures to curtail the spread of the virus. The latest efforts in the Ebola battle to test and produce vaccines and treatments have been fast tracked and are not going through the usual many-year drug development process.
During the Ebola epidemic’s six months, more than 4,000 people have reportedly become ill. However, public health officials are clamoring for a larger global response and far more aid workers to resolve the situation, which is reportedly out of control in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health groups are now estimating the virus will wind up infecting 20,000 people before the epidemic ends, and that assumes things get into control soon. In an estimate that has grown considerably in the past few week, the WHO is now estimating the fight will cost $600 million.
Here are some of the latest developments in the battle against the Ebola virus:
- Death Toll: The current death toll being cited by the WHO is 2,105 for the outbreak in West Africa. Of that, Liberia had 1,089 deaths, Guinea (where the epidemic started) 517, Sierra Leone 491 and Nigeria 8. No deaths have been reported in Senegal, the latest country in the region where people have become infected. The separate outbreak, announced in August, of a different strain of Ebola (there are five) in the Democratic Republic of Congo has reportedly killed 31 so far.
- Drug Development: In the meantime, the experimental treatment given the first two American patients and others is continuing to be tried on some patients. However, the amount available so far curtails any wider use. In the unprecedented rush to develop drugs for Ebola, two potential vaccines could be available by November.
- Treatment Centers Overwhelmed: Ebola treatment centers are woefully understaffed and too small to handle the situation in several areas. Reportedly in Sierra Leone, bodies are rotting in the streets. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden visited one facility that had 35 beds, but 63 patients, many lying on the floor.
- Recovered Patients: People who have recovered from Ebola are being signaled out for two reasons: The WHO wants blood donations from them to use antibodies they built up fighting the disease to help treat others. Meanwhile, they are being stigmatized in communities where people fear they might still be contagious.
- Lockdown: Sierra Leone imposed a three-day lockdown, forbidding people from leaving their homes. The idea was that health workers would use the period to isolate new cases. However, it remains to be seen if people will cooperate with the imposed house arrest. Doctors Without Borders and other groups do not believe it will help, and will drive the ill further underground and reluctant to seek help.
- Congo: The outbreak in the Congo is in a remote area. Congo has suffered several Ebola outbreaks since the virus first appeared near the Ebola River in 1976, when the country was called Zaire. Outbreaks in the Congo region have not spread widely like the situation in West Africa, partly because they have been in isolated areas that are geographically far from other populated regions. However, another big reason is because of cultural norms. People there do not travel as much.
The situation in the Ebola battle is grim and the latest estimates of eventual patients and costs spiraling out of control, like the disease. Hopefully, new drugs and the use of transfusions from former patients will lead to an end to the epidemic. However, health officials are now estimating that the battle will last at least another six to nine months.