More than six months ago, a two-year-old known as patient zero died of Ebola in Guinea. Since then, Ebola rapidly ballooned from an isolated case to an international epidemic, splashing across borders into Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia. Ebola cases have appeared in Senegal, United States, and Spain as well.
As of October 8th, more than 4,000 people have died from the current strain of Ebola, and the virus has killed more than 70% of those infected. The World Health Organization announced that the number of infected could rise to 20,000 by November, and a WHO official warned that humanity might have to live with Ebola “forever” if this outbreak is not brought under control.
The situation is an outrage.
Currently, there is no cure. Aid workers can only prevent dehydration and provide comfort to the numerous patients piling into what few treatment centers are available. There is an acute lack of resources such as hospital beds, which forces aid workers to turn away many of the sick who line up in front of these treatment centers. Those who return to their homes pose a great threat to their community.
Medical workers are especially vulnerable to infection, despite the full body suits and respiratory equipment they wear when treating patients. Hundreds have already succumbed to the disease. In Liberia, where more than 90 nurses and doctors have died, health workers are threatening to go on a strike over a lack of pay. One can only imagine the scale of damage this would have on the effort to fight Ebola.
Public response has been unhelpful as well. There were rumors that the medical workers were bringing the disease to the region and harvesting organs from the dead bodies. Several villages refused help and even attacked aid workers, driving them away. In a slum in Liberia, mobs attacked a treatment facility and dragged out the quarantined patients, claiming that Ebola was a hoax. This atmosphere of fear and mistrust is an enormous obstacle in delivering help across to the public.
Actions taken by governments are only helping to fuel this paranoia. Borders have been shut down, preventing the flow of goods and severely crippling the economy of the affected nations. Quarantine measures have isolated communities, which has led to clashes between the police and the people. Air traffic has screeched to a crawl, making the transport of resources and health workers a challenge. There was also one incident when cargo containing medical supplies and kits was barred from entering a port.
Amidst all of this chaos and paranoia, it may seem as if the only thing that an outsider can do is watch in horror and pray for the wellbeing of those affected. Perhaps it is time to cast off our status as bystanders.