According to a report from the World Health Organization released on earlier this month, the death toll from the ongoing Ebola epidemic has officially passed 6,000, with over 17,145 people reportedly infected. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Spain and the United States have seen person-to-person transmissions of the disease. Now entering its second year, the ongoing epidemic is the deadliest and most widespread outbreak of the Ebola virus on record.
With over 99 percent of infections and deaths, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia continue to be the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic. Whilst the number of newly reported cases has fallen significantly in Liberia and Guinea, with fewer than 600 new cases reported in the two countries combined in the last three weeks, the situation continues to be severe in Sierra Leone, where more than 1,400 new cases were reported in the same length of time.
The response of the rest of the world to the outbreak has been insufficient. Staffing of the newly constructed facilities has been left to a combination of non-governmental organisations, missionaries and local workers. The underfunded and corrupt national governments in West Africa are relying on NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF—Doctors Without Borders), which has provided volunteer doctors and nurses and employs thousands of local workers to undertake much of the most hazardous work, such as handling and burying the dead.
MSF released a statement on earlier this month, criticising the limited response to the crisis in West Africa by Western governments as “slow and uneven.” Dr. Joanne Liu, international director of MSF, condemned the decision to leave much of the direct response up to volunteers and untrained local workers. “It is extremely disappointing that states with biological-disaster response capacities have chosen not to utilize them,” she said. “How is it that the international community has left the response to Ebola—now a transnational threat—to doctors, nurses and charity workers?”
Working conditions for doctors, nurses, as well as other workers, are physically and mentally taxing and the risk of transmission of Ebola from patients to health care workers is high. Through the end of November a total of 622 health care workers have been infected with Ebola, and of these, 346 have died.
On November 25, burial workers in the city of Kenema in southeastern Sierra Leone went on strike and dumped 15 bodies around the local hospital in protest against the nonpayment of two months’ extra risk payments promised by the government. Earlier in the month, 400 health care workers at an Ebola treatment center in Bandajuma in eastern Sierra Leone went on strike over the same issue.
While the Ebola crisis continues to rage in West Africa still largely out of control, the issue has been all but been dropped by the media in the run up to the festive period.
Quite simply put, Ebola is still a huge problem in Western Africa, especially as these countries are relatively undeveloped. But really, the problem is that not enough is being done by those that are in a position to help those suffering, such as the governments, not only of the countries directly affected, but those spread around the rest of the world. This has to end, if the terrible plight of the people of Africa is to be stopped.