Ebola Outbreak Foretells of its Resurgence


Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 01:28 a.m. DST, 28 March 2014

Man on Floor of Hut, Guinea, West Africa, Photo by Dawid

WEST AFRICA -- While the animals that play host to the Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) rarely show warning signs of contamination, the same cannot be said for the humans infected with the virus. In three West African countries, the outbreak continues to manifest in the form of rashes, bruises, bleeding, muscle pain and widespread fear. For those infected, these ailments will later compound with more serious internal indicators, including blood clotting, organ failure, seizure and coma.

The process of diagnosis is a difficult one, given the analogous traits of the Ebola virus and Marburg virus disease (MVD). Another confounding variable in the effort to contain the spread of Ebola is the relatively long incubation period of the deadly viral agent, estimated at about two weeks. This makes it nearly impossible for officials and doctors to estimate the size and the scope of the threat.

But some statistics are widely accepted in the international community. At least 63 deaths have been linked to the Ebola outbreak since the virus materialized in Guinea last month. This week, neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone have both attributed deaths to Ebola. The medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, known as Doctors Without Borders in the English speaking world, is actively combatting the lethal contagion with increased medical provisions and treatment centers.

There is hope for the future of Ebola treatment. In clinical studies, a vaccine has proved effective in safeguarding mice from the virus. Another test drug has successfully immunized primates that would otherwise traffic the disease across vast regions. Researchers name fruit bats and primates as the disease's primary carrier, and recently warned against the consumption of these animals, which are dietary staples in some communities.

Since Ebola was first recognized in Zaire and Sudan in 1976, outbreaks have occurred regularly in remote African communities that are home to tropical environments. The disease has claimed over 2,000 lives over the past 40 years. While the efforts of local officials and doctors, international aid programs and medical volunteers should be commended, we should also acknowledge that food security poses a larger threat to those living in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, many times over.

Across the globe, six million people will die this year alone due to starvation and hunger related illnesses. It will do little good to discuss the Ebola threat without examining the continued risk of malnourishment in the impacted regions. Food security remains an underreported serial killer in Africa and across the world. Rural, impoverished areas that win the war against Ebola will still face the reality of food insecurity in the months following the current media attention.

Gender inequity, violence, food provisions and medicine are interwoven issues, and it does little good to magnify one issue to such a degree that the others are left out of the snapshot. And sadly, the discrimination against women and single-parent families will continue to threaten the health and wholeness of Africa and the globe. A perspective that highlights the interplay between the short-term Ebola danger and the ongoing discussion of human rights progress will be more advantageous towards lasting change in the West African region.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom