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Ebola in West Africa

More than a year after the outbreak of the pandemic in West Africa, over 22,000 people are now said to be infected with Ebola.

In December 2013 the first cases of Ebola were reported in south-east Guinea, followed soon after by the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The next months saw the worst outbreak of the virus since its discovery in 1976.

By early February 2015 the number of cases had risen to more than 22,000, close to 9,000 people had died as a result (WHO, February 4, 2015). While the overwhelming majority of cases have been reported from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, individual cases have also been communicated from Senegal, Nigeria and Mali, and in Spain and the USA.

There is currently no special medication or vaccine against Ebola. Since Ebola spreads through human-to-human contact, educating people about transmission routes and preventive measures is of crucial importance. In addition, it is essential to isolate Ebola patients systematically from others to break the cycle of transmission.

To protect medical staff, who are particularly at risk of getting infected, and to contain the spread of the disease, it is vital for doctors and nurses to have appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment. 499 health workers had already died by early February 2015. Today, the disease may be largely contained, but much is still needed in the way of follow-up and recovery. Health systems that were inadequate at best even before the outbreak are now further impacted by the epidemic and the loss of staff to Ebola, to an extent that renders them unable to ensure proper medical care for the people.

Although the number of new Ebola cases is down, it is too soon to sound the all-clear for the affected countries. Early in February 2015, Sierra Leone was once again seeing a rise in new infections for the first time this year, and particularly in remote and densely populated areas the situation remains unclear. Besides, the consequences of the epidemic in the region will be felt for a long time to come. Access to medicines and medical care is severely limited, leaving people to die of otherwise treatable diseases such as malaria.