May 6, 2014, 9:33 AM
The current outbreak began in Guinea in March. Sierra Leone is now the epicenter of the epidemic. The situation is deteriorating rapidly in Liberia. On Friday, a man died of an Ebola infection in Lagos, Nigeria.
Nurses and doctors are also falling victim to the disease. Two American aid workers have tested positive, and a doctor at Liberia’s largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, has died of the disease. The virus is amplified by a mobile population, especially across the shared borders between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the Nigerian case, the infected victim entered on a passenger flight from Liberia. The World Health Organization and the Nigerian government have shut down the hospital where the man died, and other passengers on the flight are being tracked down and tested.
Infected individuals must be isolated in health centers to prevent the virus from spreading to others and to give them the care they need. Bodies of victims must also be disposed of with care: The virus, present in bodily fluids, including sweat, is most infectious at the end-stage. Then there is widespread ignorance among the most vulnerable populations about what needs to be done. The result is that many people are hiding sick loved ones at home and transporting bodies for burial with no understanding of the precautions they must take.
Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has declared a national Ebola emergency. The governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria must also act with equal urgency to raise public awareness, put additional trained medical personnel on the ground and trace patients’ contacts with others. The current Ebola outbreak is more than a sum of national emergencies. It is now a regional crisis, and the whole of West Africa must act to contain it.
Guest Editorial which appeared in print on July 30, 2014 in The International New York Times.
“The current Ebola outbreak is more than a sum of national emergencies. It is now a regional crisis, and the whole of West Africa must act to contain it”.