The world’s worst Ebola crisis broke out in December 2013 and swept across West Africa claiming the lives of over 11,300 people. It decimated the already fragile health systems of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and while it may be approaching an official ‘end’ it has raised many questions concerning global health which still need to be addressed.
Questions like why it took the World Health Organization almost six months to declare an international emergency and begin effectively responding to the crisis. Or about the way in which health systems in the North such as Britain’s National Health Service, rely on health workers from countries such as Sierra Leone, leaving those countries with a bill for their training and a huge gap in their own human resources for health. And perhaps most importantly, why it took thousands of African deaths before treatments and vaccines to combat Ebola were prioritized.
Sierra Leone was declared free from Ebola in early November 2015 and Guinea just recently this month. Liberia on the other hand, continues to experience resurgence from the disease, and new cases have interrupted its countdown to zero cases twice in the last few months. The virus simply keeps on coming back.
Whilst an Ebola outbreak is caused biologically, an epidemic is due to weak and inefficient health systems. Prior to the outbreak, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea had an average of only 2 health workers per 10,000 people. Misinformation about the disease in the early days of the outbreak meant many frontline health workers became infected and died, leaving an even bigger deficit. A delayed response from the international community did not help matters. This was not the first Ebola outbreak, but it was the worst, infecting and killing more people than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. Effective treatments or vaccines would have helped to stem the devastation.