ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In the Time of Ebola

Sound healthcare systems are the only insurance against deadly viruses.

Disease and death are supposed to be great levellers. Yet modern medicine, when coupled with wealth, creates two distinct classes: those with a chance to survive disease and those who succumb. The story of the new and deadly virus Ebola and its spread illustrates this only too well. The handful of individuals infected by Ebola in the US and Europe will pull through; the thousands infected in west Africa have little or no chance. Not only is there no cure but even routine interventions, such as rehydration or blood transfusions that could reduce mortality, are difficult in such poor countries that have been ravaged by war and have minimal health facilities. The virus has killed over 5,000 people and infected many more. In the three countries where it rages – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – amongst the dead are local doctors and nurses.

Ebola was “discovered” as far back as 1976 and its origins traced to the Congo. It is a zoonotic virus, transmitted from animal to humans. Its early symptoms mimic other diseases such as malaria or dengue. But once it sets in, progress is rapid as the afflicted get dehydrated, delirious and haemorrhage. Without timely intervention, death is virtually inevitable. It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the infected. Thus those most vulnerable are health care providers and care-givers in the family as well as those who handle the corpse of a person who dies from the disease. Yet, the situation is not hopeless, suggest doctors working in the field. While Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to suffer, three other African countries – Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – have successfully controlled the spread of Ebola.

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