Three small, impoverished nations in West Africa—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—now demand the world’s attention as the deadly Ebola epidemic spins out of control, killing hundreds and threatening millions. Caused by a highly contagious virus, the disease starts with typical flu-like symptoms, yet most often leads to a horrific death in just a matter of days.
Since the outbreak started in early 2014, the World Health Organisation reports 1048 people have contracted the disease, and over 600 have died. But since ministries of health in these three countries do not have the capacity to survey the disease and count the dead properly, many experts believe that the numbers are much higher.
To put this into context, in 32 years (1976-2008) the Ebola virus infected 2,232 people in remote village areas and killed 1,503. In a matter of months, this current outbreak has killed more than one-third as many people.
Doctors Without Borders is the only non-governmental organisation working against Ebola in Sierra Leone and Guinea. The organisation I work for, Samaritan’s Purse, has collaborated with the group in Liberia, but this outbreak is too much for us to take on by ourselves. We desperately need others to join this fight.
More direct medical care and emergency supplies are urgently needed. More importantly, there is a tremendous need for public awareness campaigns. Although there is no cure for Ebola, people can survive this terrifying disease, and we know mortality rates dramatically drop with early medical intervention.
Samaritan’s Purse staff distribute educational fliers providing important health information on Ebola viral disease. Many in Liberia remain in denial about the existence and spread of Ebola.
Our team recently treated Harrison, the first Ebola survivor in his own family, and in all of Liberia. Thankfully, he had friends who had been educated about the disease. They recognised the symptoms in him and got him prompt medical care. Without this early treatment, the odds are he would have died as his family did.[eap_ad_2]
Of course, the best way to survive the disease is not to get it in the first place. Treatment after infection will not stop the crisis. It is imperative that other organisations join us in reaching communities with accurate information on what the disease is, how to avoid getting it, and what to do if they or one of their loved ones becomes ill. Public health and awareness information is available from UNICEF and WHO, but a larger effort is needed to share it with the millions currently at risk.
Currently, there are more than 48 civil society organisations in Liberia, and there are dozens more in Guinea and Sierra Leone. We need them all to help us in the fight against this dreadful disease. Likewise, I call on the international community and the donor governments of the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, to step in and recognize the very limited capacities of the ministries of health in West Africa and to help them contain this disease.
I urge all organisations with capacity in medical, public health, social mobilization and water/sanitation to help in this fight.
A disaster has descended upon West Africa, and it deserves the full attention of the international community. The world’s deadliest and most contagious disease is on a collision course with millions in major population centers.
The situation is urgent. There is no time to wait. (NY Times)
*Ken Isaacs is Vice President of Programmes and Government Relations for the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.[eap_ad_3]