The largest Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in history continues to rage on in four West African countries, spreading faster than health care workers can address the crisis. As of August 4, there have been 1779 suspected and confirmed cases, resulting in 961 deaths. As a result, the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) earlier today (Friday).
In order for PHEIC to be declared, an outbreak must meet the conditions set forth by the legally binding International Health Regulations (IHR) enacted in 2007. The committee unanimously decided that the current outbreak of EVD is an extraordinary event that poses a risk to members of other countries and demands a coordinated international response in order to contain the disease. The Emergency Committee met with leaders from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria via teleconference.
Now that PHEIC has been declared, the respective Heads of State for the affected countries should declare a national emergency and work with health leaders to determine the best course of action. It will take a large-scale effort from each State to reach citizens at the local level in order to spread information and distribute resources, while discouraging large gatherings where the virus may spread more readily. It was also recommended to ramp up quality of care in areas that have been most afflicted by the outbreak, and provide adequate protective gear for health care workers. Screenings are recommended at all airports and only patients being properly medically evacuated should be allowed to leave the country.
The committee also recommended that unaffected countries that share a border (all of which are in West Africa) with affected countries should maintain a high alert at the border and be ready to act upon the potential discovery of EVD.
All other unaffected countries have been advised to discourage risk of infection by traveling to affected areas, provide citizens with accurate information regarding the threat, and be prepared to identify and treat an individual with EVD. However, other international trade and travel practices should proceed as normal.
Since the transfer of two EVD patients to Atlanta, many in the US have been swept up in mass hysteria based on ignorance. Ebola is not spread through the air, and while the CDC has implemented a travel warning to the affected countries, Director Tom Frieden does not believe the US is in danger of widespread infection. Just to be prepared for Ebola or any other infectious disease, the CDC maintains quarantine stations at 20 major ports of entry and has legal authority to detain anyone they feel poses a health risk.
If you are able to read this article, there’s a fairly good chance that you are in a region that is developed enough not to fear the Ebola outbreak. Yes, it is a completely serious issue for those living or working in West Africa, but it is not something to be outright feared by the average American.
Rather than spread misguided fear, why not spread hope by purchasing the desperately-needed personal protective equipment for healthcare workers in the affected areas? Why not choose a reputable charity like Donate Relief, Africare, or UNICEF. Always check the validity of a charity with Charity Navigator before donating. Additionally, the Red Cross is utilizing citizen scientists to crowdsource the production of a map to track EVD cases.