With no new cases for a full week and the country’s largest remaining quarantine having come to a close, Sierra Leone health officials are starting to see the finish line in their long struggle against Ebola. The hemorrhagic fever has killed 4,000 people in the country since the outbreak began in 2013. Presently, only a few dozen people remain in quarantine.
Once the quarantine ends, which is expected to happen at the end of August, Sierra Leone needs to go 42 days without a new case before it can officially be considered Ebola-free.
Despite the recent success of a breakthrough Ebola vaccine, Sierra Leone’s progress is more due to education than medicine. This is because the Ebola outbreak was an example of what scholars call an “acute-on-chronic disaster.” In other words, an acute problem—the Ebola outbreak—was due to a chronic, long-standing one—inadequate public health and sanitation systems.
It took a great deal of human and financial effort to educate people on the sanitation and safety techniques needed to prevent the disease’s spread. However, getting to zero and staying at zero are two different things. Even if Sierra Leone is declared Ebola-free, vigilance and prudence will be required to make sure there isn’t a resurgence.
The Ebola epidemic has mainly affected Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where it has infected 28,000 people and killed a total of 11,000 across all three nations, including seven percent of health workers in Sierra Leone and eight percent in Liberia. Despite the damage to the populations, economy, and social structure, there have been numerous successes. In addition to the vaccine, Liberia hasn’t seen a new case of Ebola since mid-July and only three new cases occurred in Guinea last week. While “getting to zero” may not be a cause for relaxing just yet, it is hard to resist the urge to celebrate or at least breathe a sigh of relief.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Keating, J., “The Ebola Epidemic Is Coming to an End. Don’t Celebrate,” Slate web site, August 21, 2015; http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/21/the_ebola_epidemic_is_coming_to_an_end_let_s_not_get_complacent.html.