Article written

  • on 07.10.2014
  • at 10:30 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Ebola: fear, paralysis, solidarity, justice 0

No one had heard of the tiny village of Meliandou, Southern Guinea before; a place where time has stood still, untouched by the technology revolution; nestled in the forests which over generations sustained the hunter gatherers. Life was simple for a long time; it was a life many of us yearn for – away from the treadmill of life in the city. That lasted until that ecosystem changed dramatically.

Civil wars broke out in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Refugees poured over the border. The population exploded, the traditional forests suffered, slaughtered by timber companies to meet construction needs. The mining conglomerates poured in investment in a reckless rush to exploit the huge natural resources. In the context of political intrigues and instability in government, it became the flashpoint of a disaster waiting to happen.

In December last year, that simple and ordinary life came to an abrupt end when the Ebola virus claimed its first fatality of this current epidemic, brought there probably by infected fruit bats that feed on the village’s remaining mango and palm trees. Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses in medical science, is now a catastrophic epidemic raging across the region of West Africa with a massive breakout in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola virus has no specific cure and the mortality rates are up to 90%. Never before in recorded history has a biosafety level four pathogen infected so many people so quickly, over such a broad geographical area and for so long.

Glaringly, the world waited three months before reaction. The World Health Organisation’s capacity to respond urgently is undermined because of large budget cuts that member states imposed as part of the austerity measures caused by the financial crisis. The well-established procedure for curtailing Ebola outbreaks, isolating those infected and closely monitoring those who had contact with them, took time to implement.

In Liberia, for example, there were only 51 doctors in 2010. Health care workers were decimated as they lacked protective gear or were ill – trained to tackle a virus that can survive on surfaces or any object contaminated with bodily fluids, like a latex glove or a hypodermic needle. More than 200 health workers in the three worst-affected countries have been killed and 375 infected.

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By Jay Naidoo Daily Maverick

Photo credit: Jeffery E. Stern

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