Officials of the World Health Organization (WHO) state there have been more than 635 cases of Ebola spread across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia since West Africa’s first and current Ebola outbreak. There are fears by the international community that the disease will spread to neighboring countries. This is especially concerning, because the disease is not treatable and carries with it an up 90 percent fatality rate. The disease is spreading to urban centers where people travel more. This in combination with the three week incubation period leads experts to fear that if things are not contained rapidly, the outbreak will expand quickly.
Many problems are preventing the containment of the outbreak including cultural customs of body burial that involve kissing and touching of the body of those who have died, including from Ebola. Ebola is then transmitted through mucus membranes. These same family members when questioned often deny having come in contact with the body. This makes it difficult to decide who to test for the virus. Many locals of these countries are skeptical of both the virus existence as well as the health officials sent to contain the outbreak. This has led to health officials literally being run out of towns where the need for education about the disease is most needed. Since the disease is untreatable, those who fear they’ve been infected, tend not seek treatment fearing they’ll be stigmatized in their last portion of life. This leads to an increased populace exposed to the disease.
On Wednesday June the 2nd, 2014 key players from eleven countries in the West African region will congregate to discuss how they can pool their resources. However, given these same countries history in the ability to control outbreaks of different natures, without international help, it is unlikely that they will be able to contain the outbreak alone. Already there are 150 World Health Organization affiliates in the three countries where the disease currently exists. The number will most likely grow as resources are currently stretched thin as the disease continues to move from rural areas, where the virus is easier to contain, to urban areas.
If there has ever been a chance that the disease’s spread may become uncontrollable in Africa, that time is now. While this is not the first time there has been an Ebola outbreak in Africa, it is the first outbreak of this magnitude and never before has the disease penetrated urban societies. The countries currently housing the epidemic maintain communal cultures where travel throughout the West African region is common. The cultural precedents are primed to turn this outbreak into an epidemic far greater than many expect.
Jeremy Bamidele is a nationally syndicated journalist. He splits his time writing on current events in America as well as Jamaica and maintains citizenship in both countries.