West Africa can’t manage the Ebola outbreak

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
By Paul Martin

June 29, 2014

An alarming report released last week by Doctors Without Borders said that West Africa’s current Ebola outbreak is “out of control.” That should shock the governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia into action. It marks a frightening moment for a disease that has been contained numerous times before.

The outbreak, already the deadliest in history, had killed almost 400 people as of Thursday. It began in March but then slowed, causing the Guinean president to declare to the World Health Organization (WHO) in April that “the situation is well in hand.” But all was not well, and complacency led to relaxed measures and a second surge. More than 600 cases have now been reported, with the patients experiencing headache, fever and internal and external bleeding. The virus kills up to 90 percent of the people it infects, but it leaps from person to person only through contact with bodily fluids.

Unlike some viruses — including the one causing Middle East respiratory syndrome — Ebola is not new. It was discovered in 1976, and small outbreaks have been recorded occasionally since then. No cure exists, but medical teams have always effectively segregated infected areas and stopped the virus’s spread. The method is understood: treat the patients, trace their contacts and isolate those people.

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