Ebola – Combating the Contagion

The latest issue of TIME Magazine has two cover-stories. One is titled ‘Chasing Ebola in West Africa’ and another is ‘Chasing Ebola in America’.

Since 1976 when Ebola virus was first discovered, a few outbreaks had occurred in Africa. But never did the number of deaths reach as high as now.

As of yesterday, World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show that the number of deaths has crossed 4500 in this outbreak of 2014 alone.

Almost all deaths have been in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone which are the three worst-hit countries in the world.

But, I believe, the media interest increased tremendously, just this week, because two health-workers living in the USA have contracted the contagion.

Whatever the case, we must note that WHO, on 15 October, warned Ebola could reach 10,000 cases per week in West Africa if international community does not step up its response.

Ebola virus is largely transmitted through the contact of bodily fluids, but Econometrics expert Francis Smart predicts that if the virus does mutate into an airborne form, then some 1.2 million people will die from the disease by mid-January 2015.

The sad case of West Africa is the lack of adequate medical supplies, medical workers, and hospitals. And the slowness in international help reaching them.

And the sad case in US is that despite their famous Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and despite awareness of this virus for 38 years or more, nothing much was done by its research scientists to create awareness on how to contain the spread, let alone cure it.

Yesterday, trying to allay the growing panic in US, President Barack Obama said in his weekly address on the White House website that “What we’re seeing now is not an outbreak or an epidemic of Ebola. We are a nation of 300 million and have seen three cases”.

He admitted of course that “Even one infection is too many, but we have to keep this in perspective.” He threw positivism in, saying that the US had treated five citizens successfully.
On the same positive note, I feel too, that though late, the world is coming together to fight Ebola. Even arch-rivals like US and Cuba softened their political stands on this health issue.

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently praised Cuba saying, “Cuba – a country of just 11 million people – has sent 165 health professionals and it plans to send nearly 300 more” to hard-hit West Africa.

And somewhat amusing, but very significant, are the words of 88-year old Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba who said: “We will gladly cooperate with American personnel in that task (of fight against Ebola) and not in search for peace between the two states that have been adversaries for so many years, but in any case, for peace in the world, a goal that can and should be attempted.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Saturday that European Union leaders should raise the amount of money pledged to fight Ebola to $1.3 bn and requested them to mobilise at least 2,000 workers to head to West Africa.

The international aid agency Oxfam is appealing to European Union foreign ministers to do more, calling this “a definitive humanitarian disaster of this generation”.

The ending of this week’s TIME magazine’s article says “the tipping point (of an epidemic) is when the number of infected patients becomes so large that no army of health care workers is big enough to draw protective rings around every cluster of patients, friends and family”.

Let us hope the world will rise together and prevent Ebola from reaching that tipping point.