Ebola Contained, but What About the Thousands Left Suffering

On December 2, 2014, after playing in a tree colonized by bats, two-year-old Emile Ouamouno began vomiting intensely. Four days later, he died. Researchers now believe the young Ouamouno was patient zero in the West African ebola virus outbreak. Over the next two years, the virus would kill over 11,300 people while infecting over 28,000 in nine countries. Although the virus is now contained, global health organizations are evaluating the response to better prepare for future outbreaks.

In hindsight, many believe the outbreak was preventable. Doctors Without Borders released a scathing report saying the outbreak was caused by a “global coalition of inaction” that dragged its feet in response to the epidemic. “The Ebola epidemic proved to be an exceptional event that exposed the reality of how inefficient and slow health and aid systems are to respond to emergencies,” said Dr. Joanne Liu, the organization’s international president. Christopher Stokes, the director general for Doctors Without Borders believes the outbreak stemmed from a perfect storm of institutional failures. “For the Ebola outbreak to spiral this far out of control required many institutions to fail and they did, with tragic and avoidable consequences.”

There are new challenges faced by those in ebloa’s wake. Many that worked on the front lines of the epidemic face depression and addiction in a region without mental health services. Hundreds of first responders who carried diseased bodies out of homes and buried them in Libera’s mud are now suffering from alcoholism. “They didn’t tell us at the end of this job, you people will get crazy,” first responder Matthew Kruah told The Wall Street Journal. Liberia has just one psychiatrist in a country of four million people. Sierra Leone, home to seven million people, has just one.

Burial Boys

Over 8,000 children in Liberia lost one or both of their parents during the outbreak. While some were taken in by their extended families many of them were sent to bogus orphanages where they were used for labor. As news spread of these facilities, the Liberian government worked hard to have them closed. “We even had communities come forward to tell us that people had opened orphanages which seemed suspicious… Everyone knows the importance of being cared for by a family,” Patricia Togba from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection told The Huffington Post. Two years after the outbreak, almost all of the ebola orphans identified by the government have been placed with adoptive parents or extended family.

On January 14, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ebola epidemic officially over after Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone had been ebola free for 42 days. “Our work is not done and vigilance is necessary to prevent new outbreaks,” WHO’s Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said in a statement. After being criticized for its slow response, the WHO plans to create a Global Health Emergency Workforce and cut down on red tape to improve its reaction time.

The Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, a group of 17 public health experts working with the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, believes the WHO needs to go further. It recommends $4.6 billion in annual funding from donor nations and philanthropists to increase preparedness. It also recommends funding to develop medical products to help the sick, health workers, and first responders. “If most of these get translated into reality, we would have come a long way and our efforts would not have been in vain,” Commission member Gabriel Leung, dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong said.


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