The humanitarian crisis wrought by the deadly Ebola virus raging through West Africa will not be over until a vaccine is developed, the scientist who discovered the virus has warned. The virus continues its unprecedented pace, invading and destroying vast swathes of West African countries and it will continue to do so if drastic action is not taken on the front line.
It is in West Africa that the fight against Ebola must be waged, if the region is to survive. The international response is finally coming up to speed with the US and UK leading the way, with the ‘abysmal reaction by the rest of Europe’, prompting calls that more can be done.
Professor Peter Piot, part of the team who identified the Ebola virus in north western Zaire in 1976, warned the crisis has spiraled out of control. In theory Ebola is very easy to control, but it has got completely out of hand,’ he said, speaking at a seminar at Oxford University. ‘This is no longer an epidemic, it is a humanitarian crisis. … The good news is I think this is the last Ebola outbreak where we only have isolation and quarantine to treat. … Hopefully we will have a drugs and vaccines to offer in Africa.’
‘Most of these outbreaks have been in central Africa. There was one in Ivory Coast but that was a different strain from 1976, ‘ he said. ‘They have mostly been contained to the Congo, Uganda and South Sudan. … That is why there wasn’t much interest in this outbreak at the start, because it wasn’t really a big issue. All that changed this year.’
The story of the biggest Ebola outbreak in history began in Guinea in December last year. But it was three months before the authorities diagnosed Ebola and reported the situation to the World Health Organisation (WHO). By March 25, relatively few cases had been reported, and they were all confined to Guinea. Five months later, on August 8, the WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
Drawing on his experience of 25 previous outbreaks in the last 37 years, Professor Piot said, ‘It took about 1,000 Africans dying and two Americans being repatriated. … That’s basically the equation in the value of life and what triggers an international response.’