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Epidemics Can Be Beaten

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 4, 2020 13:54

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Good news may have been swamped by the Coronavirus hype: the last Ebola patient in the DRC has been discharged and for the moment there are no new infections. This tremendous achievement under extremely difficult conditions deserves recognition in the face of the Coronavirus threat.

Imagine the consternation when, in 2000, a delegation of South African expatriate wives sought reassurance that the Embassy would evacuate them if the Ebola epidemic reached Kampala.

We had to disappoint them: once the epidemic had been declared in the city it would be too late to leave. Instead of panicking they should prepare and take care.
 
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 3 declared that the last Ebola patient in the DRC had been discharged. There would now be a 42-day waiting period in the last two affected zones before the epidemic can officially be declared over.

139 contacts are still under surveillance, and more than 5100 alerts per day are still being reported and investigated, 99% within 24 hours. The statistics are impressive.

In a barely governed region where ethnic tensions, cross-border smuggling and distrust of government cost the lives of several medical staff, a cumulative total of over 157 million people were screened since the beginning of the outbreak. Over 300,000 were vaccinated, 3310 cases were confirmed and 2264 deaths registered – a 66% fatality ratio.

True heroes. Mangina DRC. UN Photo/Martine Perret www.unmedia.org

Special programs for survivors, to treat the trauma of the disease, were set up. Take a minute to share the joy of medical personnel in the Congo. But also listen to Dr. Philip Ireland of Liberia, a country of 4.5 million with only 130 doctors. Dr. Ireland, whose mother nursed him through Ebola, claims that, if you can beat Ebola, you can beat anything.

Ebola Survivors support group, Beni. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

The latest Ebola epidemic was beaten by cooperation, not isolation. Teams of international organizations, NGO’s, different and often competing nations, warring ethnic groups – all worked together. Prof Yap Boum of Mbarara University in Uganda is adamant: leadership, engagement with rural communities, the commitment of international organizations like the WHO, and the realization that a complex problem cannot be solved by technical means only was crucial.

Community liaison. World Bank Group/V. Tremeau


The Coronavirus is altogether different. With a fatality ratio of around 1%, much less than Ebola, it is much more contagious, long before symptoms are noted. It is almost impossible to stop, and it will have an effect on all populations and economies.

But, just to keep a perspective: air pollution in Europe is expected to kill around 8.7 million per year, tuberculosis kills 1.45 million people per year and in 2018 there were ten million new cases world wide.

Draconian Chinese measures to contain the Coronavirus – entire cities locked down, millions tracked through registration of travel and purchases, facial recognition of millions of suspected cases who were supposed to self-quarantine – had success, but historically censorship tended to spread pandemics and hindered health management.

The Black Death left a legacy – the Reformation, based on a growing distrust of authorities and rigid societies. May the legacy of the Coronavirus and of Ebola be one of more transparent and responsible societies.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 4, 2020 13:54

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Source: Al Jazeera

The virus killed 2,264 people and infected nearly 1,200 more, making it the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.

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