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Ebola Outbreak

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 20, 2018 07:30

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Another outbreak of a dangerous disease. Spare a thought for the people who are in the fight to contain an epidemic, who put themselves at risk, who serve to protect all of us.

They look like visitors from space: eyes are barely visible through safety glasses, every millimeter of skin covered. In the tropical humidity, it is sweltering hot under the triple layers.

They know that they are at risk. One momentary lapse of concentration, one scratch of an itchy nose, one droplet of blood on the skin, and the caregiver becomes a patient with little chance to survive. Half their patients will die in the most horrible way: bleeding from every orifice, the lungs filling with blood. There is no cure.

This is Ebola.

Only exceptional teamwork will ensure safety from contagion. Photo UNICEF/Naftalin

Born in the fecund vastnesses of the Central African forests, carried, it is suspected, by fruit bats, this deadly disease is once more in the news. The latest outbreak near Mbandaka, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has claimed at least 25 lives. While that's nothing compared to the neat 12,000 killed in the West African epidemic of 2013 to 2016, but still with the potential to sow terror.

Bush meat is popular in these regions. Fruit bats are considered a delicacy, and chimpanzees and gorillas are eaten when found. They were perhaps shot, perhaps suffering from some disease. Once infected, the disease runs a rapid course and, if untreated, is usually fatal.

Life along the Congo river is peaceful, but dangers abound. 

The highly experienced medical staff in Mbandaka will be tracking down suspected contacts and quarantining them, following the strict guidelines that might keep them safe. This is not an easy task; Mbandaka is a key transport node on the Congo river. Large ships no longer travel this route, but smaller boats, canoes, fishermen and smugglers regularly ply the waters. Anyone could be a carrier.

An international support effort is under way. The experimental vaccine being deployed by the World Health Organization (WHO) is questionable, and an extreme cold chain has to be maintained. Keeping the vaccine at minus 30 degrees Centigrade in remote parts of the Congo is a feat in itself.

And in the end it comes down to the caregivers and the doctors.

I recall the epidemic that ravaged northern Uganda in 2000. Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, head of St Mary’s Hospital in Gulu, applied the WHO’s protocol strictly, and maintained tight discipline in a situation where the smallest moment of panic could lead to disaster. His dedication, and that of his staff, contained the epidemic and brought down the mortality rate from an expected 85% to less than 50%. But, he and 13 nurses paid with their lives.

This is the other face of Ebola.

Mbandaka might be remote and easy to ignore. But, epidemics like this should remind us that no man is an island. Global changes either bring new diseases or resuscitate old ones. We are all at risk. And, we all need to salute the heroism of medical staff who take their own lives in their hands to save those they can, and comfort those that are dying.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 20, 2018 07:30

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Source: ABC News
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Congo says 3 new confirmed Ebola cases in city of 1 million; vaccinations to start soon

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