Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: International and U.S. Responses *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Africa

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: International and U.S. Responses *

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Ebola virus disease (Ebola or EVD) is a severe, often fatal disease that was first detected near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1976.1 Originating in animals, EVD is spread to humans and among humans through contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of those infected. It is not transmitted through the air. Individuals who are not symptomatic are not contagious.

On March 22, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that 49 people had contracted EVD in Guinea, West Africa and 29 of them had died. WHO estimated that the outbreak-the first in West Africa-had likely begun in December 2013, but was belatedly detected due to weak disease surveillance and detection capacity. As of mid-August, the virus had spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, infecting more than 2,000 people and killing over half of them (Figure 1). WHO cautions, however, that evidence from the field indicate that -the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak."2

The rapid spread of this virus is of great concern to Congress. In August 2014, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations convened an emergency hearing on the subject. At the hearing, Members and witnesses discussed:

* the unprecedented scale of this outbreak;

* factors impeding country responses;

* whether the international community (including the United States) had responded early and effectively enough;

* the appropriate use of experimental drugs that had not yet been tested for human safety and effectiveness, including how to choose recipients of scarce drug supplies and how to arrange dispensing them safely and effectively; and

* prospects for developing cures and vaccines against the virus.3

The number of people who have contracted and succumbed to Ebola in this outbreak has exceeded the combined total of cases and deaths in all previous EVD outbreaks. New cases and deaths are reported regularly by WHO at http://www.who.int/csr/don/archive/disease/ebola/en/.

The Ebola virus that is circulating in West Africa is not new, and health experts are familiar with methods to contain it. Several factors make this outbreak unique, however, including (1) it is the first EVD outbreak to occur outside of East and Central Africa, (2) cases are spreading across borders simultaneously, (3) people are contracting the virus in urban areas, and (4) it has infected and killed more people than any other single EVD outbreak. The disease is spreading quickly, however, because the health systems in the affected countries are ill-equipped to implement requisite containment and disease surveillance measures.

-Standard measures, like early detection and isolation of cases, contact tracing and monitoring, and rigorous procedures for infection control, have stopped previous Ebola outbreaks and can do so again."

WHO Director-General, August 12, 2014

This report will discuss these issues and may be updated. For continuous updates on new EVD cases, see WHO site referenced above.

Geographic Spread

Prior to the current outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, EVD outbreaks were concentrated in the DRC, Gabon, the Sudans, and Uganda (Figure 2). In the current situation, Ebola is spreading in Sierra Leone and Liberia, particularly in border areas. In past outbreaks, people who discovered they had EVD after returning home from Central and East Africa did not spread the virus to others. In this outbreak, however, EVD cases emerged in Nigeria after a man infected with Ebola traveled to the country. No reports have emerged of EVD spreading in Saudi Arabia and Spain where EVD patients were evacuated after contracting the virus in Liberia.

Border/Travel Issues

The shared borders of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are notoriously porous and are the primary sites of Ebola transmission. …

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