Battling an Epidemic

An Update on Ebola

What's Going On? | Lauren Bruckhauser | November 12, 2015

  • Copied

In the summer and fall of 2014, Ebola was the new H1N1 in America; people panicked over the possibility of the deadly virus spreading to the United States and there was widespread coverage of the epidemic in the media.  However, after the few cases of Ebola in the United States were contained, the virus dropped off the radar.  Ebola is no longer a hot topic of conversation nor a buzzword in the media.  Ebola’s lack of visibility in America may give the impression that the epidemic ended with America’s scare, but several regions in West Africa are still battling the outbreak.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), from the first cases in March 2014 to the beginning of this month, 11,314 people have died from Ebola.  The majority of these deaths have been concentrated in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  According to the UN health agency, not only has this recent strain of Ebola taken tens of thousands of lives, but it has also “decimated families, the health, the economy and social structures” in the worst-hit countries.

The delayed response of the international community, particularly the WHO, exacerbated the crisis of the epidemic.  Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, admitted that “the world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”  A recent advisory panel evaluating the WHO’s response to the outbreak in West Africa found a need for “significant changes throughout the” organization.  According to the advisory panel’s report, “early warning about the outbreak, including from Médecins Sans Frontiéres [Doctors Without Borders], did not result in an effective and adequate response.”  The WHO’s lack of a risk-taking culture in decision-making further delayed an adequate response.

“The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.” – Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though; domestic measures and the international response, once launched, have succeeded in turning the tide.  Sierra Leone was just declared Ebola-free November 7 after having no new cases reported in 42 days, two full incubation periods.  Sierra Leone was the hardest hit to date with 3,955 deaths out of 14,089 probable or confirmed cases.  The country will now be under strict surveillance for 90 days to ensure the no new cases develop in the country.  Liberia has been Ebola-free since September, but Guinea is still battling the virus.  With one new case reported at the beginning of the month, Guinea still faces a “near-term risk of further cases among both registered and untraced contacts,” according to the WHO.