While there is still talk, the fact still remains that Ebola is a threat not only to human life, but also to health-care systems in many countries that currently grapple with other existing health challenges.
Looking at its fatality rate, while it is low than the ‘original’ Ebola of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has almost 90 percent fatality rate, the current West African outbreak has around 50 percent case fatality rate. A disease with such a death rate is worth a cause for worry. This obviously increases the fear in people with the disease that their life is at a higher threat once they have Ebola.
You cannot deny this fact because figures do not lie as, at present, the World Health Organisation (WHO) report of October 31 on the disease shows that there have been 13 567 reported Ebola cases in eight affected countries since the outbreak began with 5 000 reported deaths.
Looking at all this, Ebola is a serious disease and requires no faint-hearted people to manage it clinically and socially.
Preventing it still remains a challenge to many countries. A disease with an incubation period of two to 21 days should easily be detected with the most significant signs and symptoms and prevent cross- border transmission.
One thing still remains important to understand that getting Ebola is not as easy as people think. You need to be very close to the infected person and that is why relatives of the sick and health workers are the people that are at a higher risk.
So it is known that Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids, which include blood, first of all because the amount of virus in the blood is very, very high, especially at late stages of infection, but it is also spread by vomit, by sputum, by faeces, by urine and by other bodily fluids.
In an effort to prevent getting Ebola, many people, including politicians across the world, have called for closure of borders of entry to their countries to prevent people with Ebola getting into their countries. Most countries that have attempted to do so reached to that conclusion due to public pressure and eventually, this strategy has not only proved to be unproductive, but also has highly impacted on their economy, tourism and promoted smuggling and rampant use of uncharted routes that are even catalysts for entry of people that may even have Ebola. Therefore, most countries have abandoned this strategy and resorted to the basic practice of screening of people at all ports of entry.
Is Malawi prepared to handle any Ebola case?
The answer is, perhaps, yes looking at the human resources and the arrangement of our health-care system. Countries that have succeeded in preventing further spread of the disease have put huge investment in contact tracing, this means, tracking everyone who has been in contact with the Ebola patient because that is one of the main successful ways to put everyone who has been in contact with that person on monitoring for 21 days. All Ebola patients need supportive treatment when they get to the facility managed by a highly trained team that is aware of infection prevention practices.
The threat for Ebola is real and studies have come to different conclusions on which countries may be the next destination of Ebola. Other studies have even modelled as to how many people may get infected with the disease over a period of time.
One thing, however, still remains important and this is understanding and taking action as required. In unlikely event of a death caused by Ebola, burying the dead is as almost similar as we do with a cholera patient and we are compelled to believe that our communities with better information will resign to adopting this practice.
At the meantime, when we are still strengthening our Ebola preparedness, heads need to roll on and in the event of any case, it will be time for work and no holiday.
Ministry of Health public relations officer