Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ebola: Encouraging news but far from victory

The Ebola treatment unit (ETU) in Tubmanburg is the first ETU to be built and staffed by the United States in Liberia / Carol Han, USAID/OFDARecent statistics from West Africa suggest that the epidemic of Ebola virus disease is declining in some areas. While this is welcomed and good news, it's important to remind ourselves that the public health emergency is not over and that significant uncertainties remain. Dr. Joanne Liu, the current president of MSF, described the reasons in an interview with Julia Belluz:
Strictly speaking, when we look at our figures, there is deceleration in the number of cases in a few spots in Liberia and Guinea, but they are still on the rise in Sierra Leone.

There are a few things we need to be conscious about: we have had those decelerations in the past. Basically, it happened while it was spreading in other communities and after that, there was another surge in other hot spots. So we need to make sure it’s an opportunity to consolidate our Ebola isolation centers and case management, strengthen the community information and education. That is key. We need to use this time for that. But the main thing is to not let down our guard.

There’s no room for complacency, no room for mistakes. Every time you go down that path, you pay: you get infected, more people are infected. Ebola does not allow you to make mistakes.
This is certainly true. I think it's also a critical time in another way: With the medical aid in the region and the momentum it is gaining, it would be a shame not to begin asking what will happen when the epidemic is finally conquered. Will the international community simply pull out, leaving a vacuum made more acute by the scores of local healthcare workers lost to Ebola itself? Or, is there a way that the current activity could bolster and influence medicine and public health there for years to come? Some ideas may be creeping into the conversation: US and Liberian officials have decided to reduce the number of Ebola treatment units planned and are discussing spending the money saved on programs aimed at combating future epidemics.

For now, however, we must avoid complacency and remain committed to providing the resources needed to fight the ongoing epidemic. I don't think it's too early to begin conceiving a foundation for improving regional medical and public health capabilities more broadly, however. Perhaps some of the capabilities on site in the affected areas now can be transitioned into a sustainable, effective medical and public health presence at the appropriate time. Not doing so would be a missed opportunity.

(image source: USAID/ Carol Han)

No comments:

Post a Comment