Inventing A Way To Halt The Most Severe Ebola Outbreak In History
Ebola is everyone’s problem, writes Dr. Unni Krishan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response, Plan International. It’s not slowing down, and there is no cure. Read on to find out what we can do to get ahead of the spread of this deadly disease.
The current Ebola outbreak, the most severe and complex in history, is now making its impact felt worldwide. Canadians breathed a sigh of relief this week as an Ontario patient suspected of having been infected tested negative for the virus, but health care workers, airport authorities, and public health officials across the country are stepping up preparedness measures. The deadly disease has killed more than 1,069 people so far in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Suspected case or cases under medical care are now in Africa, Europe and North America.
Three countries have declared Ebola as national emergencies. The military has been deployed in an attempt to quarantine people and stop the spread of the disease. Communities have witnessed horrific scenes of infected people dying with symptoms of severe bleeding. These are not scenes from fictional Hollywood movies such as ‘Outbreak’ or ‘Contagion’ -- this disaster is unfolding in real time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency demanding an “extraordinary” response. This is a decisive moment in the battle against Ebola. Time is running out fast, millions of lives are at stake and we need collective global action now.
It's A Deadly Disease Without Cure Or Vaccine:
Ebola is one of the world’s most virulent diseases and it spreads through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. Initial symptoms are the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. Such common symptoms make it hard to detect Ebola easily. There is no vaccine or cure and Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, making it a ‘doctor’s nightmare’.
Complementary care can help save lives in some instances, but public health promotion and better awareness is the best way to reduce infection rates and deaths.
How We're Keeping One Step Ahead Of The Response
A number of factors have contributed to Ebola’s steady spread and complexity: easy movement of people across porous borders; the initial gross under estimates about the ability of the disease to spread; lack of information; risky burial practices; and above all, weak public health systems and poverty.
Until now, Ebola has been one-step ahead of the response and unfortunately, it is not showing any immediate signs of slowing down.
The WHO declaration of an international health emergency is expected to bring much needed public health specialists and financial resources. The current outbreak is an unprecedented crisis with global dimensions. In addition to precious lives, psychological and economic impacts can be catastrophic.
Local health workers and aid agencies such as Plan International, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and International Medical Corps have been on the frontline, fighting a battle with limited resources and increasing challenges.
Turing the tide of this deadly disease is now the collective responsibility of the world. Better and humane care for those that are infected as well as building strong public health systems are fundamental -- not only to deal with this outbreak, but also to respond to future shocks.
The Outbreak’s Next Phase
The outbreak is not showing any signs of slowing down and thus it is not an easy moment to predict its future. To invent the future of this outbreak, rather than just to make a prediction, here are the first steps that need to be taken.
- Intensify care and support (including emotional care) for infected people, their families, health workers and caregivers through additional isolation care and support units across the impacted countries.
- Reach out to the most vulnerable people such as children and women who are often in far-flung remote pockets. This step must be complemented by reassurances to save lives of those who come forward to such health care units, preferably through appeals by heads of nations and local leaders.
- While the four West African countries with confirmed cases should be the first priority, it is time to shift gears and step up surveillance and public health promotion in the other seven countries that are on alert.
- The outbreak has exposed the underbelly of weak health infrastructure in the impacted and countries on alert. Most of them are at the bottom of the human development index and have some of the weakest public health systems in the world. Rich nations and emerging economies need to be generous and deploy all possible resources to intensify the battle against Ebola. Despite the recent injection of funds by the WHO, the World Bank and European Commission, the response has been massively underfunded. It is in the best interest of the whole world to intensify the battle against Ebola and stop its spread.
- Neglected tropical diseases continue to cause significant death and health complications in the developing world. Yet, only a tiny portion of the total funds for research globally is spend for diseases such as Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV. Investments are needed for research and to develop cure for such diseases.
The outbreak is a wake-up call to build strong public health systems, including disease surveillance measures, early warning systems and improved epidemic preparedness measures. Well prepared health workers can fight not just the Ebola outbreak, but other epidemics and disasters too. Investing in public health systems and disaster preparedness measures is the best way to invent the future trajectory of the Ebola outbreak.
How You Can Help
Plan staff are on the ground helping to disseminate critically important public health information and providing material support to contain the spread of the disease. You can help in the efforts to prevent new infections and save lives by making a donation today. Ebola is a deadly and terrifying illness, but we can stop it in its path – with your help.
About Plan and the Because I am a Girl initiative
Founded in 1937, Plan is one of the world’s oldest and largest international development agencies, working in partnership with millions of people around the world to end global poverty. Not for profit, independent and inclusive of all faiths and cultures, Plan has only one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty. Visit plancanada.ca and becauseiamagirl.ca for more information.