Ebola, Ebola

The United Nations convened a special session on the Ebola threat on 25 September. And the event was graced by Obama, European Commission chief Barosso, the World Bank president, the Japanese prime minister and ministers from Cuba, China, East Timor, Nigeria, Germany and the United Kingdom. The most affected countries—Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea were assured by the participants that they would be helped in combating Ebola.

The presidents of these three countries spoke of how the Ebola crisis had overwhelmed their societies as the already frail health care systems collapse.

The difficulty of treating the problem was highlighted by the Liberian president. "We have an extended family system where we take care of the members and are at the side of the dying. We succumb to anger if we are told not to touch our sick child or bury our dead."

Already 1,700 have died in Liberia, including almost a hundred health workers. It is estimated that Ebola cases are doubling every two to three weeks.

As per latest WHO report more than 6,300 people have now died from Ebola in the three hardest hit nations in West Africa, with Sierra Leone overtaking Liberia in death toll.

Scientists created an Ebola vaccine a dacade ago. It proved 100% effective in monkeys, but no one would cough up the billion dollars needed to bring it to market. Compare it to the billion dollars spent every 13 hours on the US war machine. The West has its priorities, and the health of Africans is not one of them.

Obama warned that if unchecked, Ebola may kill hundreds of thousands in the next months. The World Bank president said it was the worst epidemic he had seen and the response should be what's needed and not what is possible.

The great fear is that if the deadly disease (the death rate is one out of two infected persons) is not checked, it may eventually affect the whole West African region and transfer to other parts of the world.

As the meeting showed, the UN can play the valuable mobilising role when a crisis like this takes place. But the response has been much too slow, and has now to be scaled up 20 times to meet the emergency situation.

Joanne Liu, the head of Doctors Without Borders, which has been in the frontlines and been sounding the alarm bells for months, told the meeting that the promises made have not been delivered so far, aid workers are exhausted, fear has taken over, infection rates double every three weeks, health systems have collapsed, the sick are turned away and they go home and make their families sick.

What is more Ebola hits West Africa’s food security. A drop in agricultural production and rising food prices are causing food insecurity in Ebola-hit countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) found that more than 80% of people surveyed via mobile phone in the eastern part of Sierra Leone say they have been eating less expensive food since the outbreak began. Three-quarters of respondents have begun to reduce the number of daily meals and portion sizes.

Even as per conservative estimates the countries affected by Ebola are likely to handle 200,000 to 250,000 positive cases by early 2015. It is beyond their means. After AIDS, it is Ebola that is threatening a huge population in Africa. The UN plan to tackle the problem is just not enough. Many would like to see a Malthusian panic in Ebola crisis as it was once the case with AIDS! In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, only one person, Thomas Eric Duncan has died on US soil from the virus. But millions have been led to panic by ‘Ebola fearmongers’. If anything the Ebola crisis has put a question for the world. Should medicine have borders?

Vol. 47, No. 24, Dec 21 - 27, 2014