Almost two years ago, the World Health Organization verified an Ebola outbreak. A year later it declared Ebola to be an epidemic. Simple human interaction such as handshakes and hugs caused Ebola to spread like wildfire across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, ultimately threatening 28,000 lives of civilians and health care workers alike. Ebola may have been contained, but the mistakes the world made in the process make it relevant going forward.
Ebola is very difficult to detect because its symptoms resemble common West African diseases like malaria and Lassa fever, but on May 9, 2015, Liberia, the country most impacted by the disease, was declared to be an Ebola-free. Relief and celebration swept the country, but WHO officials cautioned Liberians against complacency. Neighboring countries, Guinea and Sierra Leone, still struggled for immunization. As feared, new cases of Ebola emerged. WHO workers placed the victim and his town under isolation, and on September 3, Liberia was announced Ebola-free for the second time. Despite the WHO’s efforts, several cases of Ebola were confirmed again. Ebola seems to be the virus that would never go away.
There were ten total countries affected by Ebola, with four outside of Africa (United States, Spain, United Kingdom, and Italy). In response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, airports around the world began screening travellers who had recently been to West Africa. The epidemic sparked scientific research and intense testing. Countries provided health, monetary, and military support to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, commented that the Ebola outbreak of 2014 left “a scar on the conscience of the world.” According to the WHO, at one point Liberia had “virtually no treatment beds.” In addressing Ebola, WHO failed to take action fast enough and failed to accept help from the widely recognized U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leading to excessive loss of lives. Even more disheartening, the Ministry of Health in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea did not come to the aid of volunteers, health care workers, or patients.
The health care system must be better equipped for communicable disease prevention and must strengthen the communication among parties. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC concluded, “There will always be new infections. We know we have to keep our public health system strong and prepared to respond to everyday threats so we can surge up when needed to deal with an emergency.”
by Serena Chen ‘19