Tag Archive | "ebola"

An MSF health worker in protective clothing holds a child suspected of having Ebola in the MSF treatment center in Paynesville, Liberia, October 2014. From (Doctors without borders)

Unanticipated consequences of an outbreak: Ebola in West Africa, 1 year later

It was May 25, 2014 when the World Health Organization (WHO)

An MSF health worker in protective clothing holds a child suspected of having Ebola in the MSF treatment center in Paynesville, Liberia, October 2014. From (Doctors without borders)

An MSF health worker in protective clothing holds a child suspected of having Ebola in the MSF treatment center in Paynesville, Liberia, October 2014. From (Doctors without borders)

reported its first documented case of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Since then, other countries like Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria have been incessantly fighting the eradication of the deadly virus and preventing its spread to other countries, diminishing the risk of a world-wide pandemic.  Today, after a hard fought battle, Ebola cases have significantly declined in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and Liberia and Nigeria are now Ebola-free. However, the fight to eradicate this deadly disease comes at a price for both Sierra Leone and Liberia; they both have tanking economies, staggeringly expensive healthcare systems, and rates of rising preventable illnesses neglected during the Ebola crisis.

Many working families have since been economically affected by the outbreak of Ebola. The height of the outbreak occurred during the farming season, making farmers some of the most affected by the deadly virus. In addition, strikes conducted by health workers in Liberia forced farmers to flee their land and threatened to bring the country’s food supply to a halt. Ebola not only debilitated their workforce, but also devastated their crops. Their farmlands have since become wastelands. Other measures taken to quell the spread, such as restricting trading hours and keeping citizens under quarantine during the night, diminished opportunities for citizens to conduct business with one another, catalyzing financial troubles.

The outbreak comes after decade-long civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Empty roads in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Empty roads in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Since the end of their wars, both of these countries have struggled to keep commodities prices stable. Neither have been able to implement a healthcare infrastructure effective enough to react to rising rates of malnutrition, implement necessary HIV prevention measures, or effect required child immunizations. When Ebola surfaced these countries were making progress at piecing together their fragmented health systems by increasing immunizations in children and preventing citizens from malaria infection.  However, The outbreak of Ebola not only exposed their lack of healthcare surveillance measures, but also the lack of resources needed to handle an endemic of this magnitude without neglecting other rising health issues. The rates of malnutrition, malaria infections, and infant mortality due to cholera, typhoid and other illnesses continue to rise. Ebola has drained their healthcare systems of resources necessary to deal with these illnesses. The progress that they had steadily seen in the last years quickly vanished. Doctors without Borders have reported more deaths due to Malaria than to Ebola since the outbreak.

As some of these countries continue to struggle to eradicate the Ebola virus, governments continue to suggest methods to improve their healthcare infrastructure and surveillance programs; however, resources are needed in order to train health workers and to build the facilities needed to detect dangerous diseases. The World Bank announced an additional $650 million toward rebuilding these Ebola affected countries. The World Bank continues to be the leading contributor to the fight against Ebola amongst International Institutions. The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, will hold a conference in July to get countries and institutions to pledge even more.

The road to recovery from this deadly disease that affected many countries around the world is slow and costly. The pledged resources will be used to build a healthcare system in these affected countries that will be resilient and can withstand the effects of a major endemic without collapsing the health system and economy. In addition, this system, with Liberia as its main developer, will be a model healthcare system for other developing countries in order to provide adequate response in a time of crisis by increasing trust, investing in the country and promoting growth.

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Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

What Ebola Means for West Africa and the World

*UPDATE: This article was written on August 27, 2014. As of October 3, 2014, the CDC estimates the number of people that have died from contracting ebola in the current outbreak has increased to 3,439, and the number of people sickened by ebola (as measured by laboratory confirmed cases) has increased to 4,108. Additionally, the countries now affected, including travel-related illnesses, are: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, and the United States.

The Ebola virus is still raging on in West Africa, and showing no signs of slowing down. The current outbreak, which began in Guinea, has viciously spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. To date, it has killed an estimate of 1,427 people and sickened over 2,600. While this outbreak has had nowhere near the effect of other viruses such as AIDS or the flu, epidemics such as Ebola force affected countries and the world to face some serious facts about culture, health care, and our ever-evolving global society.

There has been aspirational talk from the World Health Organization (“WHO”) and other non-governmental organizations in helping the affected areas. Furthermore, multiple countries, including the United States, have pledged increased aid to Ebola-stricken countries. With any relatively unknown disease, however, support and aid has been slow to come. According to some, for example, the United States did not take the current epidemic seriously until two American aid workers contracted Ebola in Liberia. Furthermore, although efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine are underway, major pharmaceutical companies believe there is little profit in developing one. The virus has such a high mortality rate that researchers, in past outbreaks, have not deemed it necessary to create a vaccine, as the virus typically burned itself out in a short period of time. The lack of research and funding may also be due to the fact that Ebola has yet to show itself in a developed country.

Research and aid problems aside, the Ebola epidemic brings to the forefront many issues that have been known for years, but have been too difficult to address. Ebola has all but decimated West African cultural traditions and practices, or is at least on track to. Funeral practices in affected countries, for example, have been deemed one of the main factors leading to Ebola’s spread throughout the West African region. These practices involve “washing the body before it is buried,” meaning that relatives often come into contact with infected bodily fluids via the deceased, and further spread the disease. The WHO now recommends that well-trained personnel conduct funerals and burials and dispose diseased remains “in accordance with recognized international biosafety provisions,” much to the expected chagrin of family members.

Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.
Image Source: ABC News

West African countries’ health care systems are also inadequate, and suffer from suspicion and stereotypes. Years of civil war and political strife all but destroyed most of these countries’ health case infrastructure. Moreover, this is the first time West Africa has experienced an Ebola outbreak, meaning that doctors and health personnel are highly untrained. For example, in Sierra Leone, there is only one laboratory even capable of testing for Ebola, which greatly slows response and awareness. The volunteers and non-governmental organizations haven’t fared much better in their attempts to bolster the failing health care; reports of attacks against Ebola isolation clinics due to fear and misinformation are widespread. Government response has also been severely lacking, or ineffective. Liberia has resorted to quarantine and curfew measures after a largely inadequate response by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government. This has prompted riots, food shortages, and even attacks on Ebola isolation centers.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that Ebola is not simply an African problem; it is an international one. Although some would consider headlines stating “Ebola only a plane ride away” to be fear mongering, this does not take away from their truth. Ignorance and lack of initiative have led to the spread of once unknown viruses before; think of AIDS, for example. North Americans once considered this simply an “African” disease. The ramifications of that rationale are still evident today. Thus, although infrastructures in developed countries are substantially more likely to deal with Ebola cases, it is in the international community’s best to help West African countries, and other developing nations, develop stronger health-care infrastructure and better responses to epidemics. Commentators correctly point out that “there are other diseases besides Ebola that can very quickly turn into a pandemic if they aren’t extinguished early enough.” Thus, providing aid and guidance now could have a big impact on the international community in the future.

Bailey Woods is a 4L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law