Ebola- When the West started to care

October 23, 2014
Ebola- When the West started to care
Feyaza Khan
Feyaza Khan Researcher - Guest Blogger

Kofi Annan has accused international governments of only reacting to the seriousness of the deadly Ebola virus after it came to its own shores at the end of September, and he’s right.

Ebola cases started to crop up around December last year, they were few and far between, so health workers tried to contain it as best they could. However by April, it was clear that this virus was not going away.

It took a few months after that, and many more deaths before the UN-led World Health Organisation decided to move the virus to a higher alert level, however by August, it was widely agreed that a lot of money and infrastructure was needed to stop the spread of a virus that is now at its worst in four decades.

A month after the move to a higher alert – A MONTH-Thomas Duncan returned to Texas from his native Liberia and complained to doctors of fever and abdominal pain but was sent home. Mr Duncan has since died from Ebola, becoming the first person to be diagnosed and die of the disease in America.

One could argue that had American healthcare professionals been on Ebola-alert from the time the virus had actually become a problem- weeks ago- they may have correctly diagnosed Mr Duncan’s symptoms and possibly saved his life. Had they taken the correct procedures, two of their nurses would probably not be suffering with the disease now and fighting for their lives.

Britain started to take action after a nurse in Spain contracted the virus, while caring for two Ebola patients, the epidemic was now too close to home to be ignored and the United Kingdom decided to spend around $18 million on installing border patrols to make sure people with Ebola are intercepted before entering the country, yet every single health expert argues this a PR exercise that won’t stop the virus entering the country. This money could have been spent educating healthcare workers before we got to this bleak stage. The UK’s response to requests for help in west Africa has been brilliant – engineers, medics and support staff from the army and navy in place or on their way. The rest of the EU has shown less interest and concern.

Over 200 aid workers, doctors and nurses have died from Ebola since it began and this is also unacceptable. Most of Africa’s healthcare infrastructure is lacking, these areas barely have clean water to drink or hygienic cooking areas, it’s not reasonable to expect health workers to put their lives at risk in this way.

The group Doctors without Borders begged for international assistance one month before western governments gave any consideration to their requests. If you get Ebola, there’s only a 30 percent chance of recovery, and over 2,400 people have died in Liberia alone since the outbreak started, yet the international community skimped on the funds it gave to African-aid organisations were given $400m, well short of the $988m they asked for.

Annan also admitted that the African countries could have done more to stop the spread and maybe he’s right, since Nigeria and Senegal have managed to declare themselves Ebola free. Having said that, one does wonder if this is a premature declaration, as the virus is nowhere near contained elsewhere and while Nigeria doesn’t share borders with the most affected countries Liberia and Guinea, it’s still dangerously close and Senegal’s even closer. Nigeria and Senegal will have to work hard to keep themselves virus-free, and to do that successfully they will need international assistance.

The biggest killer of children and families in Africa is malaria, everyone knows what it is, how to treat it and what causes it yet it kills thousands of people every year; if the international community can’t stop that, how can we rely on it to prevent Ebola?

Any country that has been ravaged by corruption, slavery, occupation and civil war would suffer from the lack of education that blights so many African nations. Liberia’s President says the country had over 3,000 qualified doctors in the 1980s – twenty years later, there were less than 40.

The WHO has since admitted that it was unprepared and too slow to respond to the Ebola outbreak; it says it will investigate this in time, but its priority is now to stop the virus. Hallelujah. None of us should be surprised by any of this, as I can’t remember a time when the UN reacted on time to anything.

It took one death in America to force that country to help saves the lives of thousands on another continent. A sick nurse in Spain alerted Europe to the threat. What would happen if malaria came to the West? Is this the only way to get the UN to respond properly to disease?