Improving West Africa healthcare is key to containing Ebola

Video transcript

What help do countries affected by the Ebola outbreak need to improve their health systems?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

Right now, affected countries need much more international help than what they’re getting. I think that is important to understand that although there is no cure for Ebola, which can be quite scary, the disease case be contained, and there have been several outbreaks since the disease first appeared and they were all contained. So what is different now is that it appeared in more densely populated and urbanised areas.

So we need a massive effort to contain this outbreak, and that requires not only information but also the ability to identify the cases and isolate the patients.

These countries, their healthcare systems, they cannot cope with that. It is important to remember that Liberia and Sierra Leone have gone through extremely long and violent wars and they were still recovering from that violence.

But at the same time we know that the governments in both countries spend more than 15 per cent of their budgets on health. So this means they were making a serious effort to improve their health systems. But they do not have the human and material means to deal with this threat right now.

Also, we know that, for example, both in Liberia and Sierra Leone there are less than two doctors per 100,000 people. And the number in the United States is 250. So we can see that there is a huge gap, they still have a huge challenge ahead.

What are the immediate needs of the affected countries?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

I would say that the first thing is that they need medical and healthcare personnel. And also associated with this, they need equipment to protect the people working in those environments so they are not at risk of being contaminated. So these two things, I would say, are really pressing needs.

But there is also a need for people with experience in dealing with emergency situations because there is a lot of work to be done besides taking care of the patients and tracing the cases.

Also, another thing is that, what is happening now is that regular hospitals in most affected areas are closed because the health professionals who worked there were either contaminated, or they just ran away because they were afraid of being contaminated.

So, most people who were not infected with the Ebola virus, but still need medical assistance are not getting it. I’m thinking about pregnant women or sick children. The hospitals might be closed, or the people don’t even go there because they are afraid of being contaminated. So, what is important is that these governments have the means to keep these hospitals running and functioning, and at the same time to create more Ebola care centres where they can assist patients who are infected with the Ebola virus.

(Photo credit: dpa)

EBOLA FACTS

  • Ebola is extremely infectious.
  • Experiments suggest that even a single virus may be enough to trigger a fatal infection.
  • The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976, one in northern Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Central Africa: and the other, in southern Sudan (now South Sudan).
  • The virus is named after the Ebola River, where the virus was first recognized in 1976.
  • Humans can be infected if they come in contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects from infected persons.
  • Humans can also be exposed to the virus, for example, by butchering infected animals.
  • Researchers believe the most likely natural hosts of the Ebola virus are fruit bats.
  • Symptoms include: weakness, fever, aches, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing and bleeding (including internal).
  • Symptoms appear 8 to 10 days after exposure to the virus. The incubation period can span 2 to 21 days.
  • Unprotected health care workers are susceptible to infection because of their close contact with patients during treatment.