We in the United States of America and other developed countries are fortunate to have fully functional healthcare systems. Building upon years of experience and advances and technology and countermeasures such as antibiotics and vaccinations, entire diseases have been exterminated. However we often forget that among the rest of the world, we are in the minority. A majority of the world is unable to receive the same level of medical treatment we have come to expect, some people don’t even have doctors to go to. This lack of healthcare infrastructure results in disastrous consequences. The epidemic of Ebola in Western Africa is a prime example of what happens to people without a working healthcare system.
Courtesy of WHO, CDC
The Ebola virus, Zaire ebolavirus,is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of the infected through direct contact or indirect contact like through tainted objects. There is an incubation period of 2 to 21 days with symptoms showing at 8-10 days after the initial infection. These symptoms include fever greater than 38.6 C or 101.5 F, severe headaches, muscle pains and weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and lack of appetite. The fatality rate, when left untreated, can reach 90%. This is further compounded by the fact that there are no cures or vaccinations for Ebola. (Although there have been experimental serums being worked on and have been quickly pushed through experimental trials due to the severity of the problem.) The only treatment currently available for these people is isolation, bed rest and nutrition in the hope that they are able to fight off the disease with their own immune system.
The Ebola virus is believed to be primarily carried by bats and transferred to other mammals, collectively known as bush meat. Humans in West Africa ate this bush meat, contracting the virus. Initial attempts to prevent the eating of bush meat failed as the general public refused to believe that Ebola could be spread through bush meat or even that Ebola itself was real.
There have been Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreaks previously but the current outbreak in 2014 is the worst one yet. Cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. There have been 519 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola with 380 deaths in Guinea. In Liberia, there have been 786 suspected and confirmed cases with 413 deaths. In Nigeria, there have been 12 suspected and confirmed cases with 4 deaths. In Sierra Leone, there has been 810 suspected and confirmed cases with 348 deaths. Among these deaths have been physicians, nurses, and other medical care professionals. Unable to cope with the deaths or even to stop the spread of Ebola, these nations have begun to close off borders in desperate attempts to stop it. The most poignant aspect of these epidemic is the fact that in modern industrialized countries, Ebola would be easily contained and treated. Modern medical science would have been able to stop Ebola from spreading if only it was available. Unfortunately, in West Africa, due to corruption and neglect of the healthcare system, the medical apparatus was unable to stop Ebola. Making the situation worse is the pervasive culture of superstition, mistrust of doctors, and ignorance.
Many of the public believe that Ebola is fake, a hoax, and any attempts to treat the Ebola-infected was instead a conspiracy to harm them. To West Africans, bush meat has been a critical component of African diet for millennia. Furthermore, the isolation of the infected separates people from their family, something nobody would want and it often appears to the family of the infected that the doctors were murderers and not helpers. Not trusting modern medicine, many turn to traditional medicine which have no effect and only serve to help spread the illness. They also attack the very people trying to stop the disease, again believing that those who wish to save them are actually cannibals. Armed men and mobs have attacked and looted Ebola treatment centers, in attempts to loot the centers or to take out their family members. These acts of violence have caused infected patients to escape, further spreading Ebola to more people. The inability of the West African governments to control the situation means the situation will only worsen. Faced with a lack of medical supplies and workers, experts fear that this epidemic may last months before any hope of a resolution and before that happens, many more people will die.