Keeping us up-to-date with the facts about Ebola, Rachael Povey considers what’s next in the fight against the most recent viral epidemic.

Ebola virus (EBOV) was first identified in 1976. It is a zoonotic disease transmitted to humans through direct contact with animals – most commonly monkeys and fruit bats – and their bodily fluids; it is through bodily fluids that the disease may pass between humans. In 1976 there were 602 cases and 431 deaths; since then there have been 8 outbreaks of the Ebola virus, plaguing various countries in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Sudan.

The 2014 epidemic began in December 2013 in Guinea after the death of a two-year-old boy; the disease subsequently killed his sister, mother and grandmother. It wasn’t until March 2014, however, that an official statement was produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that there had been a reported outbreak of Ebola Virus in four districts of Guinea. WHO also stated that the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone were being searched for suspected cases.

By the 28th May 2014 there had been 186 known deaths from a total of 281 known cases. Victims commonly suffer from flu-like symptoms, including abdominal pain and fatigue. This is usually followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and decreasing function of the liver and kidneys, then followed by severe internal and external bleeding. The disease is fatal in approximately 90% of cases.

Countries that have so far been affected by the Ebola virus in 2014 include, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with suspected cases in Benin, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the United States. Due to the suspected ease of spreading, some airline companies such as British Airways have stopped flying to the countries where the infection is found. However, on the 14th August, WHO released this statement:

“Ebola is not airborne and can only be transmitted by direct contact with the body fluids of a person who is sick with the disease…Because the risk of Ebola transmission on airplanes is so low, WHO does not consider air transport hubs at high risk for further spread of Ebola.” 1 2

Since the official recognition of the Ebola epidemic on the 25th March 2014, 1,975 cases and 1,069 deaths have been documented. The health charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) have said “The epidemic is now out of control,” and have asked countries to provide support “on the most urgent basis possible.” 3

 

There is no known cure for the Ebola Virus, but with such a high attrition rate in such a short period of time it is clear that one needs to be found soon before the next epidemic occurs within our ever-increasingly globalised world.

Curing such epidemics could, however, spark new problems. With ever-improving technology, medicines are becoming somewhat easier to create and to administer to patients. This means that less developed countries (LEDCs) are now able to harness these new technologies to improve quality of life. In the medical world, the significance of this is that previously deadly illnesses are now curable and thus life expectancy increases.

Though initially seeming positive, there is also a caliginous negative outcome to this medical progress; longer life expectancy inevitably means a larger global population with rapidly growing numbers in less developed countries where there currently isn’t the infrastructure to sustainably manage such a population explosion.  Additionally, in these countries the introduction of new technologies and medicines is occurring at such a rapid rate that cultural traditions, including traditions about birth, cannot keep pace. Families are still having the large numbers of children that would have been necessary before the introduction of new medicinal methods, as the majority of offspring would not have survived. However, newly introduced medicines enable a higher infantile survival rate, contributing to uncontrollable population growth.

The big question then becomes this: should global leaders such as the United Kingdom medicinalise the world to prevent the continuation of epidemics like Ebola while risking a population boom in the affected west African countries with which the economy and the land would not be able to cope? Or do we only offer medical aid once an epidemic has established itself, potentially losing hundreds of lives in the process and potentially creating an economically precarious situation for the aid-giving countries?

 

Rachael Povey

 

*The content of Perspective articles, as with all articles posted on the Tribe, reflects solely the views of the authors. The opinions expressed are not those of the Tribe as a publication or necessarily those of any other member of the editorial and/or writing staff*