Developments in the Ebola crisis
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Sep 12, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Developments in the Ebola crisis

From the past week’s headlines, here are the most important developments from the Ebola frontlines in West Africa.

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The Ebola crisis in West Africa continues to spiral, with new cases, deaths and twists emerging by the day. From the past week’s headlines, here are the most important developments from the Ebola frontlines:

Liberia’s crises deepens

In a strikingly grim update, the World Health Organization said on Monday that cases in Liberia are “increasing exponentially” and demands have “completely outstripped” the capacity to respond. Liberia now accounts for roughly half of cases and deaths reported in West Africa — and there is no telling how many cases are being missed, with the WHO still trying to “estimate the under-estimation.” With treatment centres overflowing, desperate families are now cramming into taxis in search of available beds — only to be turned back to their communities as the contaminated taxis move on to their next passenger. The severity of the crisis was perhaps best summed up by the country’s defence minister this week: “Liberia is facing a serious threat to its national existence.”

Sierra Leone orders three-day lockdown

This weekend, the Sierra Leonean government announced a country-wide shutdown for three days starting Sept. 19, a drastic move that will see citizens banned from leaving their homes and health workers going door to door in search of missing cases. This is the second time Ebola has prompted a shutdown of the country, with a more loosely enforced “National Stay At Home” day declared in early August. Medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has warned, however, that lockdowns tend to drive patients underground, ultimately spreading the disease even further.

Canadian scientists return to the hot zone

Just over a week after it evacuated three scientists, the Public Health Agency of Canada sent a new team back to Sierra Leone on Saturday. A rotation of PHAC lab technicians have been working in West Africa since June, when the health agency first deployed its “mobile lab” to an MSF treatment centre in eastern Sierra Leone — but its third team was evacuated after people at their hotel tested positive for Ebola, including a Senegalese epidemiologist working for WHO. As of Thursday, the evacuated scientists — who had no direct contact with any infected patients — were still healthy, a PHAC spokesperson said.

Another WHO expert infected with Ebola

On Monday, the WHO announced it was evacuating one of its doctors who tested positive for Ebola, marking the second time a WHO-deployed expert has been sickened by the virus (the first was the Senegalese epidemiologist). The doctor was working in eastern Sierra Leone at the Kenema Government Hospital, where more than 20 health workers have died since the country’s first confirmed case in May. On Thursday, government officials also announced that a fourth Sierra Leonean doctor, Olivette Buck, has now been infected and will be evacuated for treatment.

U.S. military joins Ebola frontlines

In a televised interview on Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama called Ebola a “national security priority” and signalled for the first time that American “military assets” would be deployed to West Africa. Few specifics have been announced but the Pentagon announced on Monday they will provide a $22-million field hospital in Liberia — with 22 beds and for foreign health workers only. The announcement has triggered criticisms that the contribution is far too meager; the WHO estimates 1,000 beds are urgently needed in Liberia’s Montserrado county alone.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom also announced it will send military and humanitarian staff to Sierra Leone to build a treatment centre outside the capital, Freetown. The facility will have 62 beds, with a dozen reserved for infected health workers.

With human trials underway, experimental vaccine shows promise in new study

On Sunday, the journal Nature Medicine published a study showing that an experimental vaccine could confer immunity for up to 10 months — the longest any Ebola vaccine has shown protection against the virus, according to the research team led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Human clinical trials for this vaccine have already begun in both the United Kingdom and United States.

Gates Foundation gives Ebola effort $50-million boost

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Wednesday that it is committing $50 million towards the Ebola emergency response — a staggering private donation worth more than what the British government has committed so far ($40 million) and nearly half of what the U.S. given (more than $100 million). The funds will scale up the work of UN agencies, international organizations and governments already responding to the outbreak; the money will also “accelerate the development of treatments, vaccines and diagnostics,” according to CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman.

Toronto Star

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