Accelerate efforts to eliminate Ebola

The World Health Organisation’s warning that the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa has been growing exponentially for at least the past 16 weeks is a matter of serious concern. It appears that the number of new cases is doubling every 20-30 days.

This means that at the present rate of increase and if nothing is done to intervene, the number of new cases per week could cross 10,000 by mid-December. This is alarming especially since fatalities are high as well. Although WHO data reveals that 4,447 of the 8,914 cases reported so far have resulted in death, its officials warn that this must not be interpreted as a 50 per cent death rate as many deaths are not reported or recorded officially. They have put the death rate at 70 per cent. While Ebola continues to rage in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, things seem to be looking up in Nigeria and Senegal, where the outbreak has been successfully contained. No new cases have been reported in Nigeria since  September 8 and the country is likely to be declared Ebola-free soon. This is a silver lining in the otherwise bleak scenario in West Africa. Others need to draw lessons from Nigeria’s strategy. 

The US and Spain have reported cases of secondary infections of medical workers. So far, the cases outside West Africa have not yet shown signs of spreading infection among the general population. Still, there can be no room for complacency. Several countries, including India, have put in place measures to screen passengers arriving from West Africa. But there should not be any slackening in such screening measures, notwithstanding the fact that early symptoms of Ebola are almost identical with that of common flu and most of those screened would be found negative. Importantly, preparation to deal with an outbreak must move beyond airports. According to WHO, eliminating Ebola is possible though early diagnosis, contact tracing, isolation of patients, infection control and safe burial. India needs not only to educate health workers and the public in identifying symptoms and preventive steps, but also create designated facilities to tackle such cases. 

The best way the rest of the world can prevent the Ebola virus from infecting their populations is to arrest it at the source. This involves strengthening the fight against the Ebola virus in countries where the disease is now prevalent. Several countries have sent funds, medicines and other equipment, medical personnel and even troops to help West Africa fight Ebola. Scientists are working to find a find a cure, even a vaccine to prevent Ebola. Clearly, these contributions and efforts need to be accelerated.

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