The media seems to have forgotten one of its favorite words of last year – Ebola – as stories from ISIS threats to Brian Williams’s memory have overtaken the news cycle. The reality is that the disease is still very much real and very much a threat to nations outside of the United States. The approximate number of twenty-four Ebola cases that have been treated in Europe and the United States pales in comparison to the number of infected patients in the African countries from which the disease originated. Of these twenty-four individuals, the majority were health aid workers who contracted the disease in West Africa and only developed symptoms once they were back in their respective countries, where they received treatment. There were only five deaths among these limited cases that lay outside of those countries truly affected by the outbreak.
BBC News offered some background on the disease, reporting that since its introduction, there has typically been less than 500 cases every year. Between 1979 and 1994, there was not a single case of Ebola. Of the cases there have been, the majority have been limited to the countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization. The current outbreak, however, is categorized as the largest in the disease’s history since its discovery in 1976, with nearly 23,000 cases and approximately 9,000 deaths. In all likelihood, these statistics are likely lower than the true figures since it is difficult to collect such data.
A small glimmer of hope may have emerged in response to these devastating figures, as an experimental antiviral drug known as Favipiravir has been tested in West Africa, showing the most promising results amidst the outbreak. Originally created by a Japanese company known as Toyama Chemical, the drug’s intended treatment was for flu symptoms, but it has also been found to treat other diseases, notably, Ebola. The Associated Press has reported that the drug was tested on sixty-nine adults and teens in Guinea, producing a survival rate of eighty-five percent. While not much of a change from the previous level of seventy percent from two months ago, it is still a measurable increase. However, it is not quite the miracle drug that will eradicate the disease, due to the fact that it only seems to have an effect on those whose virus levels are still low at the time of consumption. For those who received it later in the progression of the disease, the drug showed no effect. As with all experimental drugs, more research needs to be done so as to affirm its validity in serving as a treatment for the disease.
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as creating a drug that will cure the disease. Administering the drug will prove to be the most difficult task. Many local communities throughout the afflicted areas harbor suspicion towards outside intervention in their affairs, and therefore efforts to eradicate the disease have been mired. The more remote areas will be the most difficult to locate and administer treatment to, especially as the rainy season begins, rendering access nearly impossible.
Not all situations are this bleak, however. As NBC News reports, schools in Liberia have reopened after a six-month cessation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans on administering another Ebola vaccine trial in Sierra Leone, a country that at this time is experiencing the worst of the breakout. The vaccine, created by researchers from the U.S. and Canadian governments, is designed to expose the immune system to small portions of Ebola in order to train it to recognize the virus. It will be tested on those not yet infected, including the 6,000 doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers that are helping to fight the disease in Sierra Leone.
Some countries in West Africa have been successful in their efforts for reasons other than experimental drugs. Nigeria, for example, has been declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization. The example set by Nigeria’s response to the disease is one that the W.H.O. feels should be the archetype of how affected nations such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone should handle the outbreak. The key course of action undertaken by Nigeria was isolation, proving to be the most effective way to keep the disease from spreading. The W.H.O. cites other behaviors as responsible for the success of Nigeria as well, such as the fast response and coordination of public health authorities and international organizations. Equally important was the investigative work done to trace the disease and its point of contact with the people (which was a large proponent of Mali’s successful fight against the disease). With the impending threat posed by the nations surrounding it, Nigeria is not completely out of the woods, but their proactivity has set them miles ahead. Ultimately, what these cases tell us is that reaction time is directly correlated to the success of the nation in handling and hopefully, eradicating Ebola.
The abilities of these West African countries give hope and credibility to the idea that this disease can be stopped. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is optimistic not only about the potentialities of the new vaccination breakthroughs, but also the connections that the aid will form with the afflicted areas: “CDC is interested in helping strengthen the research capacity in-country and working on partnerships. We really hope to help with their resilience and recovery.” In creating a strong and stable health care system in the West African nations, the hope is that future epidemics will be isolated and controlled so that such devastating statistics will be a thing of the past, not an accepted reality of the future.