From the first reported outbreak of the virus in Zaire back in 1976, we have had information roughly every decade showing the migration of Ebola from Zaire to Sudan, pop ups here and there across Europe and the United States, but mainly countries on Africa’s west coast. The western world has watched with trepidation as the disease spread with fury through villages and towns, wiping out tribes, laying to waste families and health officials.
This year, I have paid particular attention to the speed with which Ebola has spread. From March 2014, the first detected case was reported in the South Eastern forested area of Guinea (the deaths had occurred in December 2013 but were only flagged in March 2014) . It spread with deadly purpose to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. As of the 18th of August 2014, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has reported a total of 2473 suspected cases and 1350 deaths. The organisation has declared a public health emergency of international concern, only used twice previously – in 2009 with the swine flu pandemic and 2014 with polio. The number of deaths now outnumber those from previous outbreaks combined; this is from 1976 to the present day!
What steps are we taking to fight the disease?
They have now granted permission for the administration of the drug Zmapp for Ebola patients in Liberia. This is the same drug that was given to the two Americans, Dr Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who succumbed to the disease whilst in service with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia.
Our borders are locking down on travellers coming from West Africa and a few cases have hit the headlines, showing us how close Ebola has come to touching down in our own countries.
Could Zmapp be the cure we are looking for?
Being an untested drug (no human drug trials apart from the two doctors have taken place for this drug) we are not sure of long term consequences and side effects. Our focus is on curing as many people as possible. But what if one of the other drugs filtering through to Africa changes the disease, morphing it into something worse?
The pharma companies have been given the go-ahead to rush test cures for Ebola. What if something else much worse than this deadly disease is created in the process? Monitoring the drug in a controlled environment is hard enough, but out where supplies to hospitals are scarce and facilities do not have sufficient equipment to monitor results could lead to misrepresented results. Could the zombie movies we enjoy as entertainment become a living reality? Maybe too far fetched, but the consequences of using untested drugs in a panicked environment makes me nervous.
What would you do if you were given the order to immunise your children or yourselves against this new terror?
After the reaction of MMR, what happens to those who decide not to get immunised? Ebola is transferred through body fluids of the infected (alive or deceased). We have experienced the Norovirus in our schools and hospitals and have seen the devastating consequences of sickness spreading through a closed environment. But immunisation from drugs not given enough time to see the side effects makes me think twice. The doctors mentioned above might have recovered on their own; they are still not 100% sure if the Zmapp cured them. Maybe it would be better to wait? I don’t know. 40% of those infected at this moment are recovering according to certain media sites but that is no guarantee my child/children might be the lucky one/s. It’s a game of Russian roulette.
What if there isn’t enough to cure everyone?
Only a few doses of Zmapp have reached Liberia and Canada has delivered 800 – 1000 does of VSV-EBOV, their untested vaccine. If this succubus of death spreads across the world, won’t the commodity suddenly become a prized possession? At this moment, it’s not financially viable for the Pharma companies to produce a vaccine as the returns are not matched with the demand. The disease is concentrated in poor countries where charity organisations or western governments have to fund production and administration of the drug. Once this changes I can hear the coffers filling quickly for these companies to churn out anything resembling a cure. We will all be panic buying, raising the costs and reducing the availability. It’s human nature. Chaos and death caused by a deadly disease or careful administration and recording of who has received the drug. This is if they manage to create a drug that works before the disease spreads further.
The more I read about the decisions being made, the more I worry. We sit and wait for the inevitable bad news within our borders, concentrating on the horrors of war across the Middle East. But are we paying enough attention to the silent killer that is reaching its infectious fingers across oceans, countries, factions, religions and cultures? How do we stop something so aggressive and deadly in its tracks once it catches fire within our borders?
What will you do when it comes?
MAPfrom UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Published on 19 Aug 2014
Information obtained from CNN, Reliefweb, WHO, Wikipedia, CDC