Ending Ebola in Liberia: A Collective Approach Needed

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The deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) has once again shown its ugly face on our African continent, this time in the West Africa region—specifically the Mano River Union sub-region, touching Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

These countries are nursing fragile democracies in which most of their public institutions, including health sectors, are still in ruins and need all the attention from their respective governments. Though it might seem a very hard thing to do to focus a bulk of the national attention on a single sector, however, it is inarguable that when this is done collectively, dividends obtain from such an approach remain a lasting positive effect for generations to come.

The Ebola disease is caused by a virus which first surfaced in 1976, in East Africa. It has a very high fatality rate of 25 to 90 percent. This means that nine out of 10 people contracting the disease do not survive.

It is caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. Four of the strains can cause severe illness in humans and animals. The fifth, Reston virus, has caused illness in some animals, but not in humans.

The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976: one in northern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Central Africa; and the other in South Sudan (then a part of Sudan Republic). The virus is named after the Ebola River, where it was first recognized in 1976, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the exact reservoir of Ebola viruses is still unknown, researchers believe the most likely natural hosts are fruit bats.

Symptoms of Ebola typically include weakness, fever, aches, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Additional experiences include rash, red eyes, chest pain, throat soreness, difficulty breathing or swallowing and bleeding (including internal).

According to the World Health Organization, "there is no specific treatment or vaccine." Patients are given supportive care, which includes providing fluids and electrolytes and food.

CNN reported that there have been more than 3,000 reported cases and more than 1,600 deaths since the discovery of Ebola, nearly 39 years ago.

Since March 2014, the outbreak in Guinea, which crossed over to Liberia, has tallied at least 215 confirmed or suspected cases of EVD in Guinea, resulting in 136 deaths, and in Liberia, 34 suspected or confirmed cases, resulting in six confirmed deaths.

With these stats, the virus outbreak needs to be tackled by everyone including decision-makers and ordinary Liberians, who most times bear the brunt of the situations when they arise.

In the Thursday, April 24th edition, our Health Correspondent, Alaskai Moore Johnson, wrote about the joy and happiness of Mr. Fallah Taylor, head of a Foya family, who having been quarantined for at least 21 days, was brought back into the community. Mr. Taylor is a Firestone employee.

His wife had contracted the virus from her sister, who died from it in Foya, Lofa County. She later travelled down to her family in Harbel, Firestone. Mr. Taylor and his one-year-old son had very close contact with her. So, when the Health Ministry and Firestone Rubber Plantation authorities found out that she was in Camp 3, they immediately sent a team, which got her and placed her in a special ward in the Du-Side Hospital, so that she and others who had come in contact with her would be prevented from potentially spreading the virus any further. Mr. Taylor and his young child were also quarantined in another facility. Sadly, his wife died few days later. By sheer miracle, Mr. Taylor and his son never contracted the virus.

At their reintegration ceremony into the community, calls were made for the community to support their reintegration. Community members, some of whom had earlier stoned his family for bringing sickness into their community, collectively gathered to welcome his family back. Taylor demonstrated his commitment to his faith by showing forgiveness to those who stigmatized his family during their quarantine period.

Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn described the Taylors’ return as a “success story.”

Authorities at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoSHW) have always said that Liberia has been successful in eradicating other diseases, including small pox, polio and yaws.

This has not come about just by a single effort. It was met head-on by all the major stakeholders, including the public themselves.

Ebola, too, can join the rank and file of those diseases that are now things of the past for Liberia. However, this is only going to happen when everyone realizes that it is deadly and their efforts are needed to eradicate or prevent it from spreading any further on our soil. Let all of us get involved with the preventive tips provided by the Health Ministry.

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