On November 6, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Sierra Leone ebola free, joining Liberia in the free zone and leaving Guinea with one case. The emergency in Sierra Leone and Liberia has ended, but the ebola crisis is not yet over. As long as one country is carrying the disease and a vaccine has not yet been found, all countries are at risk. I have written before that ebola, like all other diseases perpetually killing people in that region, will continue to be a menace until a cure is found.
While we celebrate the absence of new cases, our leaders must use lessons learned from the recent outbreak to make sure that a new case of ebola will not lead to the sort of devastation inflicted by the recent emergency. The WHO is currently building preparedness programs to assist countries deal with any future outbreak, but no matter what measures they put in place, nothing will succeed if local governments have no strategic plans in place to deal with the disease.
We were lucky that ebola is not airborne and its spread through bodily fluids necessarily requires physical contact, which means a fundamental method of containing the disease calls for infrastructure such as Isolation Units, Ebola Laboratories, and Specialized Treatment Centers with adequate and functioning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The present lack of emergency should provide an opportunity for governments in the directly affected region to strengthen required facilities for possible future outbreak.
Moreover, those who survived the disease should be monitored because of recent concerns about whether the disease has a tendency of manifesting itself in other forms. For example, there are worries that those who survived could transmit it through semen. We have seen a reemergence of the disease in the eye of Dr. Ian Crozier, one of its earliest survivors. A British nurse, Ms. Pauline Cafferkey, who also survived the disease, is still recovering after the disease caused her to develop Meningitis. These cases show that there are still unknowns about ebola and we should remain vigilant in order to avert any further catastrophe. The needs of these survivors, especially ebola orphans, should not be forgotten.
Those in the international community with the money should continue to invest in vaccine and cure. Many corporations are already testing various vaccines in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. It is important to keep in mind that ebola is a Global Health issue and not an opportunity for corporate enrichment. We cannot create a situation in which a vaccine or cure becomes available and poor people continue to die. Wealthy countries should emulate the example of Canada when at the beginning of the emergency it donated up one thousand doses of the experimental vaccine Zmapp to WHO for use in West Africa. In this regard, the WHO and other Global Health NGOs should remain mindful of the fact that poverty, more than ebola, was responsible for the more than eleven thousand deaths we witnessed during the recent outbreak.
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