“Time to heed the WHO warning on Ebola” says Mahatma Gandhi Centre

Posted on September 9, 2014 by admin

With the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, the World Health Organization has put its staff dealing with the killer disease on a war footing. Margaret Chan has asked the International community to mobilize USD 600 million to arrest the spread of the disease. She says Ebola is spreading at a pace which outstrips the effort to control it. The Mahatma Gandhi Centre’s Public Awareness Programme has released a statement urging the public and the authorities to take note of the gravity of the crisis.

“Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have between them reported about 3,500 cases and 1,900 deaths. The latest spread is to Port Harcourt in Nigeria, where it is likely that the virus will have been transmitted to many people from an infected doctor.

There is no licensed cure or vaccine for Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It is transmitted to people from wild animals, particularly fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family and spreads through human-to-human transmission. Fatality of those affected exceed to 90%.

When Ebola enters human system it obstructs an important immune compound called interferon. Research has shed light as to how Ebola virus does this, and it may therefore enhance new treatments in the future. Recently, the Mapp Biopharmaceutical, San Diego, U.S.A has claimed to have produced a vaccine, ZMapp, which is still in the experimental stage. However, due to the urgency of the time, patients who have been treated with this experimental drug have shown signs of improvement. Even if this experimental drug is found to be effective it is in short supply, and it may take many more years down the line before this drug gains FDA approval and be produced in quantities required for mass scale vaccination.

Within the last decade there have been many health hazard alarms at the global scale. Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and avian flu or bird flu, caused by pathogenic virus strain H5N1, are examples of global health alerts. When such cases were detected many countries, as a precautionary measure, ordered mass slaughtering of cattle and poultry and there was a ban on meat export from those countries. As Ebola being much more deadly to human its containment will need much tougher measures. However, success will depend on the extent of cooperation from every person in a country and assistance to the health officials.

Countries which have reported cases of Ebola are now inducing health workers to undertake door-to-door visits and explain the perils of the disease and the need to isolate people showing symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. They have also imposed travel bans and disease containment camps. Although, to date, a total of 3500 Ebola cases have been reported across Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria there can be many more out there that go unreported to the health authorities. In many countries, including Sri Lanka, it is a social taboo to be identified with communicable diseases. As conditions in isolation camps are extremely unsatisfactory people try to avoid detection of any communicable and prefer suffering with the disease at the risk of self peril without any consideration for others.

Spread of Ebola is surpassing the containment measures because the countries with reported cases of Ebola have porous borders and there is continuous movement of people across adjoining countries. Also, in the globalized and interconnected world, travel between countries cannot be fully controlled. Even if travel from countries directly affected by Ebola is monitored/restricted there can be travelers carrying the disease from those countries (either natives or visitors) reaching a destination indirectly through another transit point. Such cases are being reported every day from different airports, and many countries are taking a lot of precautionary measures.

Understandably, a country that is concerned is Saudi Arabia which will have to host over 2.5 million people from all over the world, come the first week of October, in the plain of Arafat for fulfilling their religious obligations. Although Saudi Arabia has already raised alarms and is taking precautionary measures including appropriate travel bans of pilgrims from certain Africa countries under Ebola threat they are not fool proof. Other countries which are also destinations for holy sites may attract large gatherings of people at a particular place and time from all over the world, including those countries that are affected by Ebola. Annually, Sri Lanka too contributes its share to such holy gatherings. Large numbers of Sri Lankans are also employed all over Africa and Middle East. The pilgrims and other travelers should be advised to be extra vigilant, in the interest of personal and public safety, to strictly adhere by the requirements, guiding good health and conduct during illness, in the countries to which they travel and on their return back to Sri Lanka”.

Public Awareness Programme, The Mahatma Gandhi Centre, 22/17, Kalyani Road, Colombo Tel: +2501825; Email:-power2people@gandhiswaraj.com