The Ebola outbreak that began in Guinea in early 2014 has stretched economic resources in West Africa to breaking point. While the outbreak is no longer making international headlines every day, it is very much a focus in West Africa. Here are 12 updates about the Ebola outbreak, and what to expect in the future.
Sources: IBTimes.com, BBC.com, CBC.ca, News24.com, Reuters.com, Bloomberg.com, CDC.gov, GlobalResearch.ca, MG.co.za
The death toll as of Jan. 27 was at 8,810 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the World Health Organization and Ministries of Health. The total number of cases is estimated at 22,091, though only 13,708 were laboratory confirmed.
Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, and accounted for the vast majority of cases and deaths – 22,057 cases and 8,795 deaths were recorded in these three countries. Here’s the data reported by the CDC (number of cases/number of deaths): Guinea (2,917/1,906), Liberia (8,622/3,686), and Sierra Leone (10,518/3,199).
Health workers are estimating 50 new Ebola cases each day in West Africa, including confirmed, likely, and suspected cases compared to 240 new cases a day in October. The majority of new cases are in Sierra Leone, but Liberia and Guinea continue to have new cases daily as well. According to the WHO, Ebola diagnoses are halving every 10 days in Guinea, every 14 days in Liberia, and every 19 days in Sierra Leone.
On Jan. 18, 2015, Malian authorities and the World Health Organization announced the end of the Ebola outbreak in Mali, 42 days after the last Ebola case tested negative in lab. tests, marking the country Ebola-free. The final death toll in Mali was six people out of eight reported cases in total.
Lofa, considered the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, hasn’t had any new cases in more than 70 days. This prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government to shut the center in Foya, Northern Liberia, near its border with Guinea. Doctors Without Borders shut down part of its center in Monrovia, burning the rubble to prevent contamination in the future. Of the 15 counties in Liberia, 13 have not reported new cases for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for Ebola.
Nine countries had patients with confirmed cases of Ebola, but most were the result of patients who were brought in or traveled from West Africa. The following countries out of the main disease zone had Ebola cases, represented by (number of cases/number of deaths): Nigeria (20/8), Mali (8/6), U.S. (4/1), Senegal (1/0), Spain (1/0), U.K. (1/0).*
*This excludes the cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which occurred as a part of a separate, isolated, and far smaller Ebola outbreak.
The first Ebola case was traced back to a patient in Guinea in December 2013, but the disease was not detected until March 2014. The massive delay in identifying Ebola allowed it to spread undetected for three months in Guinea, and the international community was slow to respond even after the gravity of the situation was realized. Health organizations at the regional, national, and international level were underfunded and unable to access the necessary resources to respond.
On Jan. 26, 2015, Senegal finally reopened its land border with Guinea. A statement from the Senegalese interior ministry said, “People and goods can now move freely by land between the two countries,” and praised Guinea’s “significant efforts” in fighting Ebola.
In May 2014, the WHO projected that the Ebola outbreak in Liberia was days from being over. As we know, it was only beginning at that point, and a failure to remain vigilant and aggressive in treating the outbreak allowed Ebola to spread rapidly across West Africa. Though the case numbers continue to shrink, the WHO accompanies the statistics with warnings, “Complacency is the biggest risk to not getting to zero cases. Continued vigilance is necessary.”
Doctors have been working tirelessly to try treat and save Ebola patients, and scientists have been attempting to come up with a vaccine. American microbiologist Tom Geisbert, along with several Canadian scientists, developed an experimental vaccine known as VSV-EBOV. The single-injection, fast-acting vaccine is in the trial stages at the moment, but would be crucial as an emergency response tool – should it be successful, the scientist team envisions stocks of the vaccine kept near potential outbreak zones at all times. Other vaccines are being tested including one produced by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline which shipped 300 doses for a clinical trial in Liberia for use on health care workers that are exposed daily to the risk of contracting the disease.
Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia may have the outbreak under control, but the epidemic put an enormous strain on social services such as health, education, water, and sanitation, as well as a financial burden on citizens. The international development agency Oxfam reported that 73 percent of families in Liberia have faced income declines in the face of the epidemic, and food prices remain high in the region-wide shortages. Oxfam Great Briatin CEO Mark Goldring said, “The world cannot walk away now that, thankfully, cases of this deadly disease are dropping. Failure to help these countries after surviving Ebola will condemn them to a double disaster.”
Recognizing its inability to properly respond to the Ebola outbreak, the WHO said it will create a contingency fund and emergency workforce to respond quickly to crises in the future. In 2011, the fund was recommended by a WHO committee following the 2009-2010 flu pandemic, but never came to fruition. Experts recommend the fund contain at least $100 million, and an emergency workforce should employ at least 1,500 people for emergencies. The contingency plan would represent major changes for the WHO. “What you see here is the potential for some of the most wide-ranging and sweeping reforms in any area of WHO that we’ve seen almost since the organization was established,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO assistant director general in charge of the Ebola response.