Will the ebola outbreak become a global pandemic?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe, often fatal illness in humans”. The current outbreak is the largest since the discovery of EVD in a small village near the Ebola River in 1976. Due to the unprecedented scale of the outbreak, it has been declared a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” by several international institutions and nation-states. And there is a reason to be concerned: with more than 5,000 people have already fallen victim of the disease, there is still no cure, and it remains unknown what factors allow some people to recover.
According to RMS, one of the world’s largest catastrophe modeling firms, a global pandemic is highly unlikely. Liberia and Sierra Leone, both affected by the outbreak, are still in recovery from long periods of conflict and political instability with human resources and health infrastructure at an all-time low. The risk of Ebola transmission is fairly low, requiring direct contact with bodily fluids. However, region-specific religious and social practices involve close physical contact, which has greatly contributed to the spread of the disease.
The risk of EVD spreading globally is quite low. This is especially true for the countries belonging to the global West, where health infrastructure is well developed and infected persons can be isolated in a timely fashion and provided with extensive care. Of course, one can never be too careful, and Canada has undertaken a number of minor security measures, including the enforcement of the Quarantine Act and distribution of travel health notices.
Nevertheless, the prospects for West Africa are still grim; the disease continues to spread, despite measures undertaken to stop the regional epidemic. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are short on medical staff, and face severe overcrowding in their existing medical centres. To make matters worse, the general population is reluctant to follow instructions from local officials, as they see them as corrupt and incompetent. The EVD outbreak started in March 2014, but the international community has only recently started to take this issue seriously with the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) established and the US sending 3000 military personnel to oversee the building of new treatment centers and help train medical staff. Other countries such as Canada, France and the UK, as well as charitable organizations, announced their willingness to support EVD-affected countries.
It remains unclear when this epidemic is going to stop; the infection rate seems to be rising exponentially. The WHO estimates approximately 30,000 cases will develop in West Africa before the epidemic stops. However, specialists in economics argue that the economic impact of EVD might take even more lives than the actual disease. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three worst-hit countries, all faced fragile economies to begin with. According to the World Bank report, the impact might be “catastrophic”.
Liberia is expected to suffer the most, with approximately 65% of its population involved in the agricultural sector. Roadblocks enforced by the police and armed forces, although presumably necessary to contain the outbreak’s hot spots, prevent free movement of farmers and labourers and frequently block the supply of basic goods.
Hopefully, the international community will ramp up its efforts soon and put an end to this epidemic.
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