Ebola now a regional crisis

Sierra Leon is epicenter of Ebola outbreak

July 29, 2014

An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in Africa is now taking a toll on the doctors, healthcare workers and missionaries battling the deadly disease.

Liberia shut most of its borders yesterday and Nigeria stopped flights on its major airline Arik Air last week in an attempt to battle the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

Doctors Without Borders has described the Ebola epidemic sweeping across West Africa as “out of control.” The Ebola virus, which is fatal in 90 percent of cases, has killed more than 670 people in West Africa and spread to 60 locations in four countries. The obstacles to bringing the virus under control are formidable, among them a shortage of medical resources and resistance from local communities terrified by a disease they do not understand.

The deadly outbreak that began in southeastern Guinea in February has spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the first case has now been seen in Nigeria.

Most worryingly the virus has spread to large cities with dense populations, where the infection is at risk of rampant spreading.

Nurses and doctors are also falling victim to the disease. Two American aid workers have tested positive, and a doctor at Liberia’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, has died of the disease. The virus is amplified by a mobile population, especially across the shared borders between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the Nigerian case, the infected victim entered on a passenger flight from Liberia. The World health Organization and the Nigerian government have shut down the hospital where the man died, and other passengers on the flight are being tacked down and tested.

Infected individuals must be isolated in health centers to prevent the virus from spreading to others and to give them the care they need. Bodies of victims must also be disposed of with care: The virus, present in bodily fluids, including sweat, is more infectious at the end-stage. Then there is widespread ignorance among the most vulnerable populations about what needs to be done. The result is that many people are hiding sick loved ones at home and transporting bodies for burial with no understanding of the precautions they must take.

On Friday, the WHO announced that it was opening a Sub-Regional Outbreak Coordination Center in Conakry, Guinea, in response to the outbreak. The center will “consolidate and harmonize the technical support being provided to West African countries” hit by the disease and help mobilize resources for the response, the WHO said.

Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has declared a national Ebola emergency. The governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria must also act with equal urgency to raise public awareness, put additional trained medical personnel on the ground and trace patients’ contacts with others. The current Ebola outbreak is more than a sum of national emergencies. It is now a regional crisis, and the whole of West Africa must act to contain it.

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