Hell hath no fury like an Ebola virus out of control

Sunday, September 28, 2014
By Paul Martin

by Andy Sechler
September 28, 2014

This week the United Nations Security Council called the Ebola outbreak in West Africa “a threat to international peace and security” and passed an emergency resolution, the first regarding health since the AIDS epidemic. It asked for $1 billion in aid to be directed toward the outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 5,843 cases and 2,803 deaths attributed to the epidemic, which appears to be accelerating rapidly. On Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that Liberia and Sierra Leone could have 1.4 million cases by January if the epidemic is left unchecked.

In the case of Liberia, where the majority of cases have been — 3,022 cases, with 1,578 deaths — the epidemic has paralyzed and terrorized both patients and caregivers. This, in combination with high numbers of health care workers afflicted, has, understandably, destabilized the health system, with reports of facilities closing, decreased utilization of health services and even a measles outbreak where vaccinations have been halted.

Why has Liberia’s health care system been unable to contain Ebola? Imagine throwing a gallon of gasoline on a forest baked dry from a 14-year drought and then setting it ablaze: This is Ebola in Liberia. An inferno burns out of control in a chronically vulnerable health system that is ill equipped to tackle this acute crisis, with little assistance thus far from the international community.

Before the first case of Ebola crossed into Liberia from Guinea in early 2014, Liberia was one of the most challenging places in the world to receive quality health care. Fourteen years of brutal civil war had devastated the nation’s health care infrastructure, causing 90 percent of its health care workforce to flee and 80 percent of its health facilities to shut down. At the time of the peace accord in 2003, there were just 50 doctors serving a population of 4 million, leading to some of the worst maternal and child health statistics in the world; 1 in 8 women there die from childbirth complications.

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