Ebola may finally be declared as fully wiped out

Monday January 4 2016

A nurse in protective clothing demonstrates the facilities in place at The Royal Free Hospital in north London in preparation for a patient testing positive for the Ebola virus, on August 6, 2014. Ebola virus is transmitted through contact with an Ebola disease sick person’s bodily fluids, like blood and vomit, not, for example, air or water. PHOTO  LEON NEAL | AFP

A nurse in protective clothing demonstrates the facilities in place at The Royal Free Hospital in north London in preparation for a patient testing positive for the Ebola virus, on August 6, 2014. The virus is transmitted through contact with an Ebola disease sick person’s bodily fluids, like blood and vomit, not, for example, air or water. PHOTO LEON NEAL | AFP  

By CHEGE MBITIRU
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With traditional Christmas and New Year’s celebrations behind, an occasion worth of a similar fetes is coming.

The occasion is January 15, 2016, when the UN World Health Organization (WHO)— breaths are on hold—expects to announce the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia over.

That’s after 42 days—twice the disease’s incubation period—since the last known victim was declared cured.

It will be two years since the virus struck when in December 2013 the first victim was diagnosed in Liberia’s neighbour, Guinea.

Like a wildfire, it spread quickly to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The virus then made excursions to Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria.

It wasn’t long before it hitchhiked on unwitting humans across oceans.

Within months, Doctors Without Borders, a volunteer health hazards fire brigade par excellence, was warning the outbreak was out of control.

Unsurprisingly, hysteria became another outbreak in various countries.

It was particularly expressed shameless in the United States where some officialdom ordered mandatory quarantine of people arriving from the countries hit by the outbreak.

A fact had gone to the wind.

As medical experts, including the UN World Health Organization and the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, CDC, noted, it’s very difficult to contract the Ebola disease.

That’s because it’s transmitted through contact with an Ebola disease sick person’s bodily fluids, like blood and vomit, not, for example, air or water.

DISAPPOINTING RESPONSE
By the end of last year, WHO says some 29,000 cases were recorded; so were 11,300 deaths, mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

It was the worst Ebola outbreak recorded since the virus simultaneously struck two places in 1976: Southern Sudan and a village near Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which it’s named after.

By the time of the west African outbreak, the virus had struck severally.

Consequently, several facts were known to governments, health officials, and even WHO: the virus strikes randomly, had no vaccine or known cure other than delicate medical care; the fatality rate can be anywhere between 25 and 90 percent; it hibernates somewhere unknown—in primates and bats are top candidates.

Yet when the virus first struck this time, response, locally and internationally, was sluggish.

That’s because except for a limited number of researchers and institutions, to politicians especially in Africa, where the virus has viciously struck in the past, and the public, disappearance tends to be equated with eradication. After all, doctors were around, sort of thinking.

Anyway, it’s just as well, the virus hitchhiked.

UNITED FRONT

The international community realized the outbreak wasn’t a west African problem and rallied to contain it.

All manner of aid needed poured in; doctors and nurses volunteered, at great personal risk, and donors, despite own problems, opened purses.

Even multinational pharmaceutical companies suspended cut-throat competitions to develop a vaccine.

Other than slowing down the outbreak, this cooperation was encapsulated in an announcement in Guinea last August.

Anti-Ebola vaccine trials on 4,000 victims had proven 100 percent effective: a decade-plus process in 12 months.

If WHO—and it seems inevitable—declares the virus chased into hibernation, it’s also “Next time Ebola, we’ll be ready!” A mighty Hurray!