Ebola Lives On
By: Charles Redding
Who can forget the tragic sight of the victims of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa during its peak in 2014? Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a rare and deadly disease most commonly affecting people and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). The virus spreads to people through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from EVD. This can occur when a person touches the infected body fluids (or objects that are contaminated with them), and the virus gets in through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can also spread to people through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected fruit bats or primates. According to the World Health Organization, the 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa was the “largest, most severe and most complex Ebola epidemic” in history. Over 28,000 people were infected and over 11,000 people died before the countries were declared “Ebola-Free” in 2016. Today there are over 10,000 survivors of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak.
Although the virus was discovered in1976, a new generation was introduced to this devastating disease and the consequences of not combating a global health issue with a global response. Global efforts to care for patients, protect healthcare workers, disrupt the transmission of the disease and help the fragile health systems in West Africa recover, were all instrumental in controlling this deadly outbreak.
MedShare played a key role in combating the disease and in rebuilding health systems in West Africa by providing $3.6 million of urgently needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment to public hospitals and clinics in West Africa. I got a chance to see first-hand the impact of our work and the devastating aftermath of the Ebola outbreak when I traveled to Liberia in 2016, after the nation was declared Ebola-free.
Yet with all the focus and attention this deadly disease received 5 years ago, many would be surprised to know that there is another Ebola outbreak occurring today and that many of the survivors of the recent outbreak are living with the dire consequences of having been infected with this devastating disease.
As of July 9, 2019, the WHO reports that a total of 2437 confirmed and probable EVD cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), of which 1646 died. The Ugandan Ministry of Health (MoH) confirmed a case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Kasese district, Uganda. The patient was a 5-year-old child from the DRC who travelled with his family from the Mabalako Health Zone in Democratic Republic of the Congo after attending the funeral of his grandfather (confirmed EVD case). Two other suspected cases, family members who travelled with the first confirmed child, were also confirmed for EVD.
MedShare continues to work with our partners to send critical medical supplies and personal protective equipment to the DRC to aid in addressing the healthcare challenges faced in combating EVD. U.S. officials are working with basketball Hall of Famer and long-time MedShare supporter, Dikembe Mutombo, to help fight the recent Ebola outbreak in the DRC. He is supporting critical awareness campaigns by recorded messages in Kiswahili, French and Lingala, recommending anyone impacted by EVD seek treatment, stay away from those infected, follow safe burial procedures and accept vaccines if offered them.
MedShare is also participating in a partnership to strengthen continuous care for Ebola survivors through the Center of Excellence in Vision Care at the Lowell and Ruth Gess Eye Hospital (LRGEH) in Sierra Leone. This collaborative partnership includes the Emory Eye Center, Emory University, United Methodist Church, Central Global Vision Fund, Christian Blind Mission International and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
The project is led by Dr. Steven Yeh and Dr. Jessica Shantha, of the Emory Eye Clinic. They have done incredible work, providing care for EVD survivors and exploring long term effects of EVD such as uveitis, or inflammation of the eye, which can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. This condition has been observed in an estimated 13% to 34% of recovered EVD patients.
Ebola lives on, and there is much work to be done by the global community to combat this global health issue. Let’s continue to support those on the front-line fighting to contain and eliminate this deadly virus and not forget the key lesson learned from the outbreak in 2014 – global health issues require a global response.