With the second case of Ebola on US soil, a sense of alarm has set in throughout the world. The Ebola virus causes an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Ebola virus disease (EVD) first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The current outbreak started in West Africa (mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone) with the first case reported in May 2014. Since then, thousands have cases have been reported and many have lost their lives to this fatal disease.
Several controversies are buzzing around Ebola Virus Disease, one of the most astounding one being the one that revolves around the start of this epidemic. The earliest cases, in 2014, were reported in May 2014 and in August 2014 the WHO declared this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. However, since the existence of the virus has been known from 1976, why have treatments or vaccines not been developed for over 2 decades? Why were sufficient funds not provided for research for treatment of this deadly disease? Drugs and vaccines have been in the works for a while, but drug companies aren’t interested in something that infects a handful of people each year in poor countries. They are perhaps happiest specializing in “diseases of the rich”.
What are countries doing to stop this outbreak from developing into a full-fledged pandemic? This outbreak is serious since the virus is now in human-to-human transmission mode. In Liberia, the ‘epicentre’ of the current outbreak if one can call that, the rapid rate of infection has outstripped the rate of provision of facilities to deal with infected patients.
According to the WHO report on the situation in Liberia some 152 health care workers have been infected and 79 have died. When the outbreak began, Liberia had only 1 doctor to treat nearly 100,000 people in a total population of 4.4 million people. Every infection or death of a doctor or nurse depletes response capacity significantly.
On one hand we have people trying to work actively to improve the situation on the ground and on the other we have celebrities trying to give their personal insights to the disease. According to the troubled R&B star, Chris Brown on Twitter, “I don’t know … But I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. S–t is getting crazy bruh.”
Whether Ebola will control the population or not, we don’t know. What we do know is that the phase 1 research to find the treatment has been hastened. With companies such as Tekimera and Glaxo Smithkline deploying their intellectual expertise and working to find a solution for this complex disease, we hope to see concrete results to be announced soon. The vaccine that is being studied is found to be working on monkeys and can prevent infection even at high doses of the virus. Will it work the same way on humans? We’ll have to wait to find that out.
– Mannat Anand