World Health Organization Declares Ebola A Public Health Emergency
The spread of the Ebola virus through Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has killed over 900 people, and infected more than 1500 since February. Two Americans, are currently being treated for the deadly fever in Atlanta, a priest in Spain is said to be the first European Ebola patient, and a man in Saudi Arabia believed to have Ebola died this week.
On Friday (Aug. 8), the World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency. “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries,” the WHo said. “A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola.”
Dr. Kent Brantly and missinary Nancy Writebol — the two American missionary volunteers that contracted Ebola in Liberia — received an experimental drug while in the country. The serum worked well enough so that both were able to make the trek from Africa to Atlanta where they arrived at the Emory University Hospital, via ambulance. They remain in an isolated area of the hospital.
The Center for Disease Control reports that half of the 100 health care workers infected with Ebola in Africa have died. At least 50 more U.S. health care workers will deploy to Sierra Leone, the heart of the Ebola outbreak. Among them is Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory.
Meanwhile, health workers in Liberia and Nigeria want access to the medication that helped Brantly and Writebol. Nigerian health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu was told that due to shortness of availability, the country would have to wait months for the drug. Nigeria’s president has declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.
Some have said that African patients should have been first in line to receive the drug and perhaps contain the spread of Ebola. However, the move would have been risky. “It would have been front-page screaming headline: Africans used as guinea pigs for American drug company’s medicine,” pointed Dr. Salim S. Abdool Karim told the New York Times. Karim is director of Caprisa, a South African research firm.
The difference in cultural customs also makes it hard for treatment. Dr. Oliver Johnson, who is treating patients in Sierra Leona revealed some of the other obstacles facing medical workers. “There’s fear and concern among the patients who either don’t believe the disease is real, or don’t trust the hospital to treat them,” Johnson said. “So they’re staying away from the hospitals.”
That fear includes dead bodies. In areas of Liberia, the bodies of dead Ebola patients have been thrown out on the streets by relatives scared they’ll contract the virus.