Experts say the Ebola virus disease is caused by four or five viruses put together in the genus as Ebola virus. They add that one of the four viruses, which was first known as the Zaire virus and is now commonly referred to as Ebola virus, is the most dangerous and the species identified as the cause of the epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The virus was first discovered in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in 1976 when outbreaks occurred in those countries. Since then, the disease has been confined to Central Africa until now that it has hit West Africa. There is a suggestion that the viruses in both Central Africa and West Africa are the same.
However, in a joint study by Tulane University (a private, non-sectarian research university in New Orleans, Louisiana), the Broad Institute (a collaborative community pioneering a new model of biomedical science) and the Harvard University, all from the United States, in partnership with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the findings suggest some differences, though not conclusive. Sadly, five members of the research team died because they contracted the Ebola virus before the research findings were published.
Unclear cause of outbreak
So far, the cause of an outbreak of Ebola is not entirely clear to medical and health experts. It is, however, believed that the initial infection is a transmission to a human through contact with an infected animal�s body fluids, with evidence strongly implicating bats as the hosts of ebolaviruses.
The process of infection is that bats usually eat fruits and pulp, but drop parts of them which mammals, including gorillas, also feed on, thus getting the virus from the dropped fruits and pulp; and when humans come into contact with these animals or eat them, they contract the disease.
Human-to-human transmission, however, takes place through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids from an infected person. There is no documented evidence of airborne transmission.
The current epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to some researchers, started when a two-year-old boy, Emile Ouamouno, from the village of Meliandou in Gueckedou Prefecture, Guinea, died on December 6, 2013 from the Ebola disease. Reports say his family were hunters of bats for bush meat. The boy�s mother, sister and grandmother became ill after his death and later died.
From the above, it is clear that the current Ebola epidemic did not come unexpectedly. The disease was known to the WHO and the world as far back as 1976, and in West Africa in December 2013, yet the UN and its agencies as well as western countries did nothing substantial because they all considered it an African problem.
The disease began in Guinea in December 2013 and by March 24, 2014 there were 112 suspected cases with 70 deaths, but the figures increased from 221 reported cases and 146 deaths, including 26 health care workers. By May 2014, 281 cases had been reported, with 186 deaths.
In late March, the disease reached Liberia, a country with only 50 physicians (one for every 70,000 people). From there it moved to Sierra Leone when 12 Sierra Leoneans who attended a funeral in Guinea became infected. By June, there were 158 suspected cases, but it increased to 442 by July, thus overtaking the figures in Guinea and Liberia.
In Nigeria, a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who flew from Liberia to Lagos on July 20 became ill upon arrival at the airport and died five days later. Sawyer was the man Dr Ameyo Adadevoh, the Ghanaian who treated him, had physically prevented from leaving the hospital to stop spreading the virus in Nigeria. Dr Adadevoh lost her life from that heroine act of physically holding Sawyer and preventing him from leaving the hospital.
All this while, not much action had been taken by the UN and its agencies led by the WHO, while at the same time Western countries continued to sit by and watch what they saw as an African disease and thus an African problem. Many Western countries banned flights to the three countries � Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone � as a way of ring-fencing their countries from the Ebola disease.
The most annoying part of the hypocrisy of the West is that their journalists no longer know the difference between individual countries in West Africa and began to constantly and continuously refer to the disease as either spreading in West Africa or Africa, instead of the individual country names, yet when the disease got to the US and Spain they never referred to them as Europe and America.
US Ebola invasion
Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian-American, travelled from Liberia to Texas on September 20 and was diagnosed with Ebola eight days later. He died on October 8, 2014. On October 12, 2014 US Centres for Disease Control Prevention confirmed that a health worker, Nina Pham, who treated Duncan, had tested positive for the Ebola virus. That was the first recorded transmission of the disease in the US, followed two days later with another health worker, Amber Joy Vinson, testing positive for Ebola.
Western countries began to feel the heat of Ebola when cases were reported in their territories. In the US, where President Obama acknowledged that �the best way to protect Americans is to end the outbreak in Africa,� it is sad that he only realised this when the disease reached America but not in December 2013 when it was first reported and continued until October 8 when Duncan died on US soil.
For the Europeans, it was only until Teresa Romero, a health worker, became the first person inside Spain to contract the disease that the Spanish government perhaps realized that Ebola could also kill people outside Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In most European countries, the authorities� first act was to ban flights from the infected areas or West Africa to their countries. In France, Air France on August 27, 2014 banned all flights to Sierra Leone after a recommendation by the French government�s council of ministers.
These western countries did not adopt the same policy in 2003 when there was an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Asia or the 2009 swine flu pandemic in Europe and other parts of the world. Flights to Asia were not banned even though SARS and swine flu were airborne diseases that spread more easily than Ebola virus which is spread by contact with bodily fluids.
Western countries might have now come to terms with the reality that the Ebola virus does not respect colour of skin, neither does it know geographical boundaries and, therefore, they no longer see the disease as an African disease.
It is heart-warming that Germany is currently the only western country which has agreed to treat non-citizens. I wish more western countries would see the reality and help stop Ebola.
Source: Frankie Asare-Donkoh (The author is a Political Scientist, and Media and Communication Expert. [email protected])
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