The Ebola outbreak affecting West Africa is the worst in history. According to UN figures, deaths across the region have reached over 800, and officials in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling to control the virus and prevent it spreading.
While the virus is not new, there is no known cure and this outbreak has been the most devastating since the virus was first identified in 1976. Ebola is a viral illness that kills up to 90% of those infected. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), initial symptoms can include a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat. This can then be followed by the more serious stages of vomiting, diarrhea and even external bleeding.
While public health dissemination across West and Central Africa has gone into overdrive, health workers have faced more difficult challenges in rural and countryside areas where their presence has often been treated with suspicion. As Liberia’s Information Minister Lewis G. Brown explained, ‘’some [Western health workers] have been turned away because communities believe they are the cause of the spread of the disease. Superstition aside, traditional practices in burial, including the preparation and washing of the deceased, is one of the near-certain ways of contracting the virus if death was from Ebola.’’ It is in these circumstances that politicians, medical workers, and local voices must group together to combat the threat. Brown further expanded on the measures being taken in Liberia to inform people of the risks of the virus, where they have used ‘’ indigenous language radio to reach remote communities and sending local public health workers – at real risk to themselves – to speak in local languages to villagers, to overcome the suspicion they may have of others.’’
With world leaders and international health organisations rallying together to prevent the spread of the virus, the Ebola case outlines the ways in which localised issues can very quickly take on an international dimension. Medicine, Politics and Geography students should note how attempts to contain Ebola’s spread are being exacerbated by the porous borders of today’s globalised world. In an era of interconnectedness and easy international air travel, health concerns in seemingly distant areas of the globe have the potential to very quickly develop into transnational political issues – only enhancing the role of non-governmental institutions such as the UN and WHO.