Progress made in slowing Ebola spread in West Africa – but it is still spreading

EbolaProgress made in slowing Ebola spread in West Africa – but it is still spreading

Published 30 December 2014

Nearly 20,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus since December 2013, and about 7,700 of them have died. Over 90 percent of patients live in West Africa, where poor public healthcare systems have accelerated the spread of the disease. As 2015 approaches, healthcare officials in West Africa are seeing progress in eradication efforts. Ebola-infected dead bodies are being picked up from the streets of major towns and properly buried by government workers, and more patients are being admitted to hospitals due to an increase in the number of hospital beds available. Yet, despite the progress made in recent weeks, Ebola is still spreading in remote villages. “It is encouraging to see that when we get to a place where Ebola is spreading quickly, we can end that cluster within a month or two,” said one expert. “But the problem is, there are clusters all over, and new ones popping up all the time,” adding: “This is going to be a long, hard fight.”

Nearly 20,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus since December 2013, and about 7,700 of them have died. Over 90 percent of patients live in West Africa, where poor public healthcare systems have accelerated the spread of the disease.

Global health officials believe that the current epidemic began in a village near the border towns that link Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. There a two-year-old boy developed a mysterious illness and died. Other family members and a guest also fell ill and soon the virus spread to neighboring villages. By the time the virus was identified in March, it had reached Conakry, Guinea’s capital.

It was not until August that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency, but by then thousands of West Africans had fallen ill. In September, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. military would send medical supplies and some military personnel to Liberia to help build medical tents and testing facilities so healthcare workers could properly treat patients who might have contracted the virus. Britain, France, China, and other countries also contributed to Ebola relief efforts through their public health agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The Los Angeles Times reports that as 2015 approaches, healthcare officials in West Africa are seeing progress in eradication efforts. Ebola-infected dead bodies are being picked up from the streets of major towns and properly buried by government workers, and more patients are being admitted to hospitals due to an increase in the number of hospital beds available. Yet, despite the progress made in recent weeks, Ebola is still spreading in remote villages.

It is encouraging to see that when we get to a place where Ebola is spreading quickly, we can end that cluster within a month or two,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But the problem is, there are clusters all over, and new ones popping up all the time.”

Grand Cape Mount County in western Liberia has reported at least fifty new cases this month, said Tolbert Nyensuwah, assistant minister for preventive services and the head of Liberia’s Ebola response. Liberian healthcare officials had set a 31 December target for recording no new Ebola infections, but some remote areas still lack treatment centers and efforts to educate residents. “This is a serious situation and we are going to Cape Mount today along with our international partners and UN agencies,” Nyensuwah told a news conference late Sunday in Monrovia. “We are going there to open an Ebola Treatment Unit.”

The Ebola epidemic has collapsed not just the healthcare systems in West Africa; it has also left schools unattended, business in many major towns in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have halted, and even countries hundreds of miles away from affected countries have suffered. Tourism officials in Kenya and South Africa have reported that scores of American tourists have canceled their holiday trips due to the epidemic, despite the fact that neither country has experienced a case of Ebola. “This is going to be a long, hard fight,” said Frieden.

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