The eminent American journalist, Laurie Garrett, who in 1996 won the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Ebola outbreak in Zaire, has given us an alarming warning.
In an interview last Saturday with National Public Radio (NPR), based in Washington, D.C., she described as “very late” America’s intervention in the Ebola crisis that is currently ravishing West Africa.
Ms. Garrett prepared for her interview by first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and came away with the distinct impression that by the time “the fastest mobilizing operation I know of tells me that . . . it’s going to take 50 to 100 days to mobilize the different elements that they’ve promised to commit. We are so far behind the virus and I’m quite fearful that we won’t catch up.”
Ms. Garrett was even more emphatic . . . and scared. Said she, “If we conservatively say these three countries have a cumulative 15,000 cases and you say, as it was announced, it’s doubling every 15 to 21 days: so that means by the end of September it would be 30,000; by end of
October, 120,000 and by the time we all gather around our Christmas trees, it would be over 400,000.”
When the virus first broke out in Zaire in 1976, she said, it was confined to “isolated rural areas;” but the outbreak in the Mano River basin quickly spread to the densely populated capital cities of the three most affected countries–Conakry, Guinea, Monrovia, Liberia and Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The prospect of 400,000 cases by Christmas is worrisome. If her estimated figures are correct, we can, with trepidation ask ourselves how many of this number will survive and how many will perish?
But before getting there–and we earnestly pray to God that we will not–all of us in these three besieged countries must work diligently, conscientiously and with all our might to contain (restrain) the spread of this virus, so that it does not exceed 100,000 in all the three countries.
How shall we accomplish this? First, we must intensify the awareness and sensitization initiatives, so that people know and believe that this virus is not a joke, that it is killing people in the hundreds and thousands. That is why it was so disheartening to have learned on Tuesday morning that Guinean youth attacked and stoned to death several young people who had gone into the villages of that country to promote Ebola awareness. What will it take to cause our people to come to grips with the terrible Ebola reality?
Despite the dangers, we cannot give up the battle of sensitization.
The three nations should use every means available–especially radio, which is still the most effective communication tool in most places, to get the message across that Ebola is real and it kills. We must also use the cell phone, probably the next most effective communication tool.
Every phone call must be answered first with the message: “Ebola is real and it kills;” then go on to give phone numbers and places where people can receive emergency testing, once they suspect a symptom in themselves or somebody they know.
These messages should be in all the major languages in each country and locality. In Liberia’s Nimba County, for example, the messages should be in Gio or Mano; in Bong County, Kpelle or Mandingo; in Sinoe, Kru; in Maryland and River Gee, Grebo; and in Montserrado, simple English or Kpelle.
TV should be used and posters placarded everywhere.
The three countries should be saturated (flooded) with buckets, chlorine, Clorox for hand washing. Medical, nursing and paramedical personnel, including body removers, should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). Bodies should be either cremated or buried in safe environments far away from sources of daily water supply.
All of us, especially the 3,000-strong military contingent dispatched by United States President Barrack Obama, could ensure the provision of the buckets and detergents and provide the financial and other logistical resources for the sensitization.
That is in addition to the troops’ other important functions of building clinics and hospitals to ensure that affected people are speedily admitted and cared for, and that the Ebola dead are swiftly and efficiently buried.
With these and other measures, and all of us in our three countries fervently cooperating, we can defeat this virus even before Christmas.