At a time when the world is struggling to find solutions to the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, outbreak of Ebola in western Africa also needs immediate attention of global leaders.
Considered as the worst Ebola outbreak in history, the virus has infected more than 1,300 people, and more than 700 have died since March. If no immediate attention is given to this problem, more people would lose their lives as there are no licensed drugs or vaccines for the disease.
Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been the worst affected countries with fatality rate of about 60 percent. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has also seen cases.
One of the main reasons for containing the outbreak of the disease is that it is very difficult to distinguish between Ebola and the symptoms of malaria, typhoid fever or cholera because early symptoms of an Ebola infection include fever, headache, muscle aches and sore throat. Only in later stages do people get diagnosed with Ebola when they begin bleeding both internally and externally, often through the nose and ears.
It will be a blunder to consider it a local phenomenon and become complacent because it has the potential to spread to other countries and continents. It has already infected two American aid workers working in Liberia.
The recent statements by officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) are sufficient to ring alarm bells. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that WHO chief Margaret Chan told a meeting of the presidents of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that the epidemic was outpacing efforts to contain it and warned of catastrophic consequences in lost lives and economic disruption if the situation were allowed to deteriorate.
Another casualty of the outbreak is the ongoing peace efforts in Africa. The epidemic has prompted some international organisations to withdraw. The US Peace Corps has said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The US aid group Samaritans Purse also said on Friday it would complete the evacuation of its 60 international staff from Liberia over the weekend.
The WHO is launching a $100m response plan and the US is providing material and technical support to the three countries. Further assistance will be discussed at a US-Africa summit in Washington next week.
The outbreak cannot be controlled just by releasing funds or relying on the efforts of global health organisations. The alarming situation in West Africa needs coordinated efforts of global health organisations, affected countries, non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and pharmaceutical companies that are working to find vaccines•