On the best of days, the health care system in such West African countries as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is strained beyond reason, with hospitals and clinics struggling to provide even the basic needs of their populations.
Add on top of that a critical Ebola crisis, and the situation becomes an unmitigated nightmare. A senior official for Doctors Without Borders has correctly described the conditions there as being “out of control,” as these countries struggle to contain a highly contagious and deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of more than 650 West Africans with more than 1,000 people infected.
Ebola is a form of hemorrhagic fever, which can have a 90-percent fatality rate. It can take hold of its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea. In several cases it produces organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. Many officials believe that the disease is carried by animals hunted for meat, notably bats.
It spreads among humans via bodily fluids including sweat, meaning you can get sick from simply touching an infected person. With no vaccine, patients believed to have caught the virus must be isolated to prevent further contagion. There is no known cure for the virus.
In recent weeks, the situation has become even more fraught with tension and an outgrowth of intensified fear. In Guinea and Liberia, health care workers and health officials have tested positive for the deadly virus in the midst of their efforts to stem the crisis. Front Page Africa, one of the leading newspapers in Liberia, stated that the chief medical doctor at the country’s leading hospital recently became one of the latest casualties of the virus.
Just a week ago, the health ministry in Sierra Leone said that its lead doctor in the fight against Ebola had contracted the disease. Adding to the sense of panic, there are recent reports that the virus has now spread to Nigeria, with a confirmed case in what is now the fourth West African country.
With top medical professionals succumbing to the disease, many panic-stricken everyday residents are now questioning their own chances of avoiding the virus.
What is needed now is an intensified effort by the international medical community to not only prevent the spread of the disease, but also to seek to halt the spread of the panic associated with it. It will not be an easy task, but it is a crucial undertaking, and one that would return a sense of stability to these countries and their deeply troubled citizens.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: AP Photo/Samaritan's Purse)
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