When news first broke of the emerging Ebola epidemic taking place in West Africa, the world stopped and actually looked. This was an epidemic that saw the closure of schools for up to 6 months, Christmas being cancelled, hugs and handshakes being advised against and entire communities were quarantined. It seemed the region nor the world was ready.
However, in the above paragraph I use the word ‘was’. This is because the epidemic which resulted in the death of over 11,000 people was declared over by public health officials. Despite the announcement the World Health Organisation warned that it was likely that flare-ups would continue, and news emerged less than 24 hours after the declaration that ebola was the cause of death for a person in Sierra Leone. But, it seems the worst is behind us.
The duration of the epidiemic and the number of people it effected was unprecedented and was one of the worst international health disasters in history; but what lessons ought to be learned by health officials, world leaders and politicians, and the public?
Was the world ready?
The epidemic that started in December 2013 grew out of control as local and foreign governments and the WHO failed to contain it or devote adequate resources to stopping it. This suggested that the world was not ready to deal with health crises like this, particularly ones affecting less developed counties. The WHO acknowledged its own failings to respond quickly to fast moving epidemics, so it meant that non governmental organisations, charities, international aid organisations, and Medicins Sans Frontieres (AKA Doctors without Borders) had to accept the burden of the ebola epidemic. This suggested that the level of responsibility and the power of global health is beginning to shift towards other organisations other than the WHO. And no, the world was not ready.
The Importance of Medical Infrastructure
West African countries are amongst the poorest in the world, with sierra Leone and Liberia in the top 10 most poorest. As a result of this medical infrastutructure within those countries is inevitably going to be suffer when epifemics arise. Whilst, a few dedicated local health workers fought valiantly against Ebola when it first emerged, they had too few resources to do the job. And many locals who helped to fight the disease also lost their lives. The ebola epidemic is likely to have significant impact on long term health development in west Africa, vital resources that help to improve maternal and child health will now be refocused on preparing for future epidemics, which will further damage the already weak health infrastrutcture in the region. It is hugely important for developed nations to provide aid, assistance and shore up resourcces in the region to help make these countries more able to cope in the future.
International efforts to tackle the epidemic were vital. However, they often collided with the realities that faced them on the ground- which further contributed to the spread of the disease. Educating communities is vital for ensuring that local people are aware of future disasters and can adequately cope by themselves. This would be far more effective than relying on misunderstood, well intentioned foreign experts. This effort should be taken upon by local chiefs andreligious leaders- people who have the trust and respect of their communities.
The next time there is an epidemic, scientific leaders and health officials need to be more vigilant and organised when developing drugs and vaccines. It took too long before experts even came close to finding a workable vaccine. It is incredibly important for the containment and resolution of future epidemics to make sure health officials can work quickly and efficiently.
And finally, its not over. It came as a huge shock that Ebola could grow and spread to the scale that it did.
It is clearly difficult to predict what, when or where the next outbreak could occur, but research into cases like this need to be carried in order for us to be more prepared and to be able to cope.
It is vitally important that we continue to support lesser developed countries so that they can overcome potential disasters.
This outbreak has shown that the world is still incredibly vulnerable and unprepared to cope with global epidemics.