Ebola is a highly infectious hemorrhagic fever that kills a very high proportion of the people who contract the infection. The virus was first identified in 1976 during simultaneous outbreaks in both Sudan and The Congo. Ebola is not spread through the respiratory route as is the case with other viruses (such as Flu), instead it is spread through bodily fluids including blood, vomit, saliva and sweat. The most recent outbreak of the virus has occurred in the West African Countries of Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to the WHO over the last number of months the death toll has risen to 729 people. This is mainly due to the fact that there is no anti-virus treatment or vaccine for Ebola. However, if people are treated early and kept well hydrated the chances of survival are increased. Unfortunately, awareness about how to prevent the spread of the infection amongst local people can be limited and encouraging people to seek treatment early can be problematic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is investing $100million (US) to address the outbreak. Historically outbreaks of Ebola have tended to occur in central African Countries. Communities and services in these countries have knowledge about ways to respond to the outbreaks, which can help the outbreak being contained more easily. The fact that Ebola outbreaks are comparatively rare in West-Africa, and systems for responding to it are rudimentary, has meant that the virus is all the more deadly for the populations living there. The current outbreak is different from previous occasions when the virus has emerged in that it is occurring in multiple countries, and in multiple districts within these countries. The priority at the current time is to identify new cases, isolate these individuals, and then identify people who have potentially had contact with them. Experts (such as Dr Stephen Monroe, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have emphasized the importance of having a district-by-district approach to addressing the outbreak; explaining that the outbreak is too large and diffuse to be addressed any other way.
In May of this year, the WHO published the following video online to describe how it is responding to the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea:
The WHO has also published recommendations for infection control regarding Ebola and similar infections:
The courage and commitment shown by local and international staff working together (negotiating differences in language, beliefs and practices) to support infected people and to prevent the spread of the disease are to be applauded. In Sierra Leone, organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are working with the WHO to coordinate the medical response to the Ebola outbreak there:
However, in light of the limited health infrastructure in countries like Sierra Leone, the WHO is heavily dependent on the work of local organizations to raise awareness about the virus.
I have the great privilege of being a board member of ‘commit and act’ (https://www.facebook.com/pages/commit-and-act/225446230900341) a non-governmental organization that trains non-specialists in psychosocial interventions in Sierra Leone. It was with ‘commit and act’ that I visited Sierra Leone in 2012 and 2013. Hannah Bockarie is the Leonean lady who acts as Director of the ‘commit and act centre’ in Bo, Sierra Leone. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and a number of ‘commit and act’ volunteers, Hannah has been busy doing community out-reach work to educate local people about Ebola. I have included some photographs below that help provide an insight into the important work that ‘commit and act’ to promote awareness about the virus in Sierra Leone.
My thoughts are with Hannah, my friends in Sierra Leone, and all those who lives are being affected by this outbreak in West Africa