BY AMBER TANG
It has been over a year since the Ebola epidemic began with a small village in Guinea in December, 2013. In this period of time, there have been almost 23,000 cases of Ebola with 9,177 deaths, the majority of which have taken place in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. By now, the height of the crisis has seemingly passed. Other news have taken its place in the media and according to a statement released on Tuesday by John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, nearly all U.S. troops stationed in West Africa to fight Ebola are scheduled to return home by April 30.
Last month, the WHO published a one-year report that examines the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It asks: how did the Ebola virus spread so rapidly in places like Guinea and Liberia? A major factor was the fact that community resistance and fear hindered control of the virus. Treatment facilities were rioted, vandalized, and mobbed as lack of knowledge about the disease gave rise to panic within communities. In September, 2014 a team of eight responders were found murdered and later that month an armed mob attacked a group of Red Cross volunteers. Cultural beliefs, lack of education, and ineffective responses to the outbreak all played a part in this community resistance. Furthermore, evaluations in certain locations within Sierra Leone and Liberia also showed that community-based responses and cooperation helped contain the disease. This was specially demonstrated in Lofa, a county in Liberia, which successfully controlled the outbreak and stifled the spread of the virus.
However, in many cases, transmission of Ebola was also facilitated by the lack of safe burials and difficulties with contact tracing. Even now, as countries try to eliminate what remains of the virus, obstacles arise in their attempts to control the spread of disease by following up with those at risk of exposure and arranging safe burials to limit infection. In December, Sierra Leone also launched its “Western Area Surge Operation” which employed community engagement, tracing, surveillance, and mobilization tactics to limit the spread of the disease through early treatment and detection of symptoms. Although, overall, the number of Ebola cases has decreased significantly as a result of these efforts, the total weekly incident has increased these past two weeks and countries still face considerable challenges in their attempts to reach zero cases.
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“One year into the Ebola epidemic: a deadly, tenacious and unforgiving virus.” World Health Organization. January 2015.