By Mohuya Chaudhuri*
As the worst ever Ebola Virus outbreak in history continues to spread rapidly across West Africa, this health emergency has now become a major transnational threat. With each passing day not only more cases of infection and deaths are being reported but also that the virus is widening its footprint to other countries as well and could ignite new round of outbreaks.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), is now concerned that the deadly virus could spread to other countries like Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivorie and Ginea-Bissau, which share borders with affected countries.
Currently, the number of people affected by this virulent virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has gone up to 3967 cases and 2105 deaths. In Nigeria, there have been 21 cases and 7 deaths so far while in Democratic Republic of Congo, where the virus strain is believed to be different; so far the rapid response team has identified 53 cases and 31 deaths. About 160 others are being tracked.
One of the reasons why the Ebola outbreak is still not under control is because the international response towards containing the epidemic has been extremely negligible. Cases have escalated much faster in the last few weeks. In a statement, WHO said that it is estimated that unless controlled, the deadly virus could infect at least 20,000 people and approximately 10,000 deaths could occur in the coming days unless containment measures are taken to manage the epidemic.
Each affected nation is struggling to combat the disease since their health systems are not able to cope with the enormous caseload that has been multiplying swiftly since the outbreak began. Existing health centres don’t have enough beds, isolation units, medical supplies needed for treatment like oxygen masks, intravenous fluids and drugs to treat co-infections or disinfectants, protection gear or body bags and proper burial rituals to maintain hygiene and prevent transmission from patient to the staff.
Because of the huge shortage of these essential material the work force is under immense pressure and is often unable to provide treatment to all patients coming to the health centres. Many patients are being sent way, resulting in death.
In desperate need for help and support, nurses treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone had to go on a strike since there was a massive shortage of protective clothing.
In India, so far the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme is tracking 1031 passengers travelling from affected countries. But is it enough? Though the disease has not reared its head yet within the country, it is crucial to remain cautious and not be complacent. To avoid economic and business loss, travel to and from the affected countries will not stop. Which is why the risk of transmission remains a constant concern for countries like India.
So far, there has been no contributions financial or teams of health workers from other countries, especially wealthy ones, to stop the deadly pathogen. Humanitarian agencies like Organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres have been pitching in with healthcare workers and some funds but the scale is such that a lot more is needed is the severe and deadly virus is to be contained.
With the possibility of the outbreak turning into a global pandemic, WHO has now come up with a new set of guidelines to ensure containment of the disease within the next six to eight months. The organization has also requested for 600 million dollars so that the emergency can be tackled adequately. So far, EU and the World Bank has pledged their support.
The plan is to set up many more treatment and management centres in affected areas for better diagnostics, vaccines and therapies. This will help diagnose and catch cases early. More teams of health workers are required to be able to attend to all patients along with increased provision for treatment beds, isolation wards along with food, protective equipment such as gloves, impermeable gown, boots, masks to safe guard health workers and doctors.
Without proper technical expertise and the required staff, treating and controlling the disease optimally is not possible.
Since lack of transport is another major problem, vehicles will also be made available so that all patients can be tracked and reached.
Communication systems are also being suggested since low awareness about the disease is leading to many cases not reaching health centres. There has been public outcry against the system when families were being quarantined to prevent transmission. Like in Monrovia in Liberia, some drastic steps were taken such as keeping slums under quarantine. However, it failed and ended up spreading panic instead.
Unless people are aware of about the disease, and its symptoms and the preventive measures that can stop this unprecedented, fast moving disease from spreading, the Ebola outbreak will take many, many more lives.
* Mohuya Chaudhuri, former senior editor, NDTV, is a Delhi-based independent journalist, resarcher and film maker. She may be contacted at [email protected] – OST