Magazine article The Christian Century

Containing Ebola

Magazine article The Christian Century

Containing Ebola

Article excerpt

Media reports on the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa have highlighted the dangers of travel to the region, the decision by some airlines to suspend flights, and the debates about the effectiveness and availability of anti-Ebola drugs. The condition of two American missionaries who were infected and transported to Atlanta for treatment received much attention.

Behind these stories lie critical, ongoing issues of basic health care in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and neighboring countries. Combating Ebola primarily involves rudimentary public health measures--the use of protective clothing, effective quarantines, the sharing of information, and widespread education.

The Ebola epidemic has exposed the fragility of health-care systems in Africa. For example, when told that frequent washing with soap and water is important in preventing transmission of the virus, one person asked: "How can we wash all the time if we have no clean water to wash with?"

Ebola is one of many diseases menacing West Africa. Poor sanitation, poverty, and lack of education cause people to die every day from typhoid, malaria, cholera, and other preventable and curable diseases. The Ebola epidemic has in some cases overwhelmed health clinics, leaving them unable to treat other conditions, and elsewhere fear of Ebola has caused many to stay away from doctors altogether, which likely means that deaths from non-Ebola cases will skyrocket. Joanne Liu, head of Doctors Without Borders, calls this development "an emergency unfolding within an emergency. …

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