What happened to the Ebola crisis?

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Flickr/Global Panorama

Research by: Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale, Abi Simons.

What happened to the Ebola crisis?

In 2014 UK newspapers decided to designate many of their front covers to the prospect of Ebola coming to the UK. As time went on and this fear faded away so did the newspaper headlines and so to the news coverage of the crisis.

What is the Ebola Crisis?

By the end of July 2014, WHO statistics showed 1,603 cases and 887 deaths. By 3rd February 2016, the World Health Organization reported a total of 28,638 suspected cases and 11,315 deaths. The countries most affected were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola virus is devastating and people who contracted it often died in severe pain and in undignified way. The early symptoms included the sudden onset of fever, general weakness, muscle pain, chills, headaches and sore throat. And as the disease progressed, the symptoms worsened and included nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, bloodshot eyes, rash, chest pain, stomach pain, severe and rapid weight loss, bruising, bleeding from various orifices (most commonly the eyes), internal bleeding and impaired kidney and liver function.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted between animals and humans. It’s introduced into the human population through contact with bodily fluids of infected animals. It has been reported that the origin of the Ebola crisis may have come from a tree in Guinea which children used to play on which was home to thousands of bats. The children used to cook and eat the bats and this is where the spread of the disease is likely to have begun.

The aftermath of the crisis

Although there finally appeared to be some good news on January 15th 2016 when West Africa was officially declared free of Ebola transmission. New cases were still discovered in Sierra Leone just hours after the World Health Organisation made this statement. They claim that it is likely that we will see continuous flare ups as the virus continues to remain present within survivors up to a year after contracting the disease.

Even though new cases of Ebola are now becoming increasingly rare, the aftermath of Ebola is also devastating. This includes the thousands of now orphaned children where one or both parents have died of the virus. UNICEF reported that over 22,000 children lost one or both parents in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. These children are traumatized and will continue to be stigmatized in their neighbourhoods. Furthermore, during the crisis millions of children had to go without education as schools refused to teach because of the risk of the disease spreading leading to a possible lost generation in Africa.

There is also the risk of what is known as the Post-Ebola syndrome which sees people who are reportedly cured of the disease still suffering from long term effects. These can include body aches, vision impairment and even blindness, headaches and extreme fatigue. These symptoms are so severe that it might mean that survivors of the disease may continue to need treatment for months or even years which raises questions of the long term effects of the aftermath of the crisis.

What can we learn from the Ebola crisis?

The World Health Organisation was criticised for not declaring the crisis earlier and not sending vaccines quicker. For example, according to the New York Times Scientists from the U.S. and Canada said in 2005 that they had developed a cure for Ebola which appeared to be 100% effective on monkeys. But the drug was not licensed for mass production as it was considered too expensive at a time when an Ebola outbreak seemed unlikely. Thousands of deaths could have been avoided if vaccines had been sent quicker, so this is an area which governments will be or should be focusing on in the future.

President Putin of Russia has now also claimed to have created a vaccine to cure Ebola.  Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, has said scientists have developed two vaccines to treat Ebola. “The first vaccine is unique and is not on the level of anything else in the world,” she said, explaining even a small dose of the vaccine provides “100 percent neutralization” of the virus. Although not everything Russia claims can be trusted.

A research by the Science and Technology Committee as explained by the BBC has unfortunately shown that the UK is vulnerable to epidemics such as Ebola because of a gaping hole in the country’s ability to manufacture vaccines. The research claimed that the UK lacks the capability to manufacture enough vaccines to vaccinate UK citizens in an emergency.

This is particularly worrying as the likelihood of another deadly virus is definitely expected, as there has already been another outbreak of a separate virus – Zika in Latin America. The virus is spread by mosquitos and is most dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause birth defects to their unborn children. Although the virus is not a threat to the UK because the mosquitos need hot temperatures to survive, warnings have already been announced that the Zika virus could be as disastrous as Ebola. There have also been reports that Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity, has said: “There is a long road ahead. As with Ebola, Zika has once again exposed the world’s vulnerability to emerging infectious diseases and the devastation they can unleash.”

So although the news stories on Ebola have begun to fade away from the media, the crisis still continues and the aftermath is being felt. As new viruses appear and begin to spread, we just hope the world has learnt the lessons of dealing with such a crisis so that hopefully less lives will have to be lost to infectious diseases in the future.
This article is in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

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