After Ebola: Another Recovery for West Africa

by Glorianne Besana

In 2014, West Africa experienced an Ebola outbreak beyond what it had experienced before. The clusters of outbreaks occurred in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – countries that were entirely affected by this epidemic.[1] Ebola, a virus that is transmitted through human-to-human contact, has a fatality rate of 50%. This was the biggest outbreak since the initial discovery of the virus in 1974.[2] Easily transmittable and usually fatal without treatment, this outbreak forced the respective countries to refocus on containing the disease and trying to help the survivors, while the rest of the world looked on. Some sent help, but all had to acknowledge the developing countries’ struggle to provide answers for the victims. The lack of infrastructure contributed to the failure of a fast response and exposed the local health care systems as underfunded, understaffed, and underdeveloped.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the two-year Ebola outbreak was over in West Africa in early 2016.[3] By the time WHO announced this, the outbreak had killed over 11,000 people while infecting 26,800 others.[4] In the shadow of a sweeping tragedy many have used this epidemic to speak out about the importance of turning their economies around. Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Kai Koroma emphasized this particular point, expressing a desire to “rebrand” Sierra Leone as an open country.[5] WHO’s Global Ebola Vaccine Implementation Team, which is comprised with representatives of countries currently and previously affected by the disease, claims it will have a vaccine on the market within a few years.[6] They hope that the circulation of the vaccine will help prevent an outbreak since there is no cure available.

For the survivors, even though the outbreak is over, the disease continues to make the resumption of life very difficult. Surrounded by closed down businesses, the survivors remain trapped in their shattered national economies, with daily reminders of the horrors that had taken place. This has lead to a cry for mental health care to help survivors deal with the emotional exhaustion an epidemic can cause. Many survivors lost numerous family members, face a bleak economic future, and understandably report to be dealing with crippling depression. In the case of Sierra Leone there is only one psychiatrist in the entire country.[7] For the population of six million there is simply no access to any mental health treatment. Psychotropic drugs are constantly in short supply and there is a want for a skilled workforce in this field.

Despite this, the countries in the region recognize the problem and are actively trying to solve the internal needs in order to keep their economies afloat. West Africa had undergone a trying time but the way back will require communal strength to upgrade the stability of their region.

[1] World Health Organization, “Looking, Hopefully, Towards An Ebola-Free Future,” World Health Organization (April 2016): Accessed on April 10, 2016. http://www.who.int/features/2016/ebola-vaccine/en/.

[2] World Health Organization, “Ebola Virus Disease”. World Health Organization. (January 2016): Accessed on April 12. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/.

[3] Alixandra Sifferlin, “West Africa To Be Declared Ebola-Free, Health Officials Say,” TIME.Com (January 13, 2016): Accessed on April 12, 2016. http://time.com/4179412/ebola-outbreak-over/.

[4] Rishi Iyengar, “Sierra Leone Records Second Ebola Case This Week,” TIME.Com (January 21, 2016): Accessed on April 13, 2016. http://time.com/4188271/ebola-sierra-leone-second-case-victim/.

[5] Associated Press, “Sierra Leone President Urges Foreign Investment Post-Ebola,” The Big Story (April 7, 2016): Accessed on April 13, 2016. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/4669cb35bdd443f6aa4d28e00ef84696/sierra-leone-president-urges-foreign-investment-post-ebola.

[6] World Health Organization, “Looking, Hopefully, Towards An Ebola-Free Future,” World Health Organization (April 16, 2016): Accessed on April 13, 2016. http://www.who.int/features/2016/ebola-vaccine/en/.

[7] The World Bank, “As Liberia and Sierra Leone Recover from Civil Wars and Ebola, Demand for Mental Health Services Surges.” World Bank (April 11, 2016): Accessed on April 12, 2016. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/04/11/as-liberia-sierra-leone-recover-from-civil-wars-and-ebola-demand-for-mental-health-services-surges.

Featured image courtesy of www.usaid.gov.

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