Ebola outbreak turns one amid relapses

Ebola outbreak

The Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa is turning 1 year old and people seem to be celebrating it by recreating some of the mistakes that contributed to make it the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever. For example, three doctors were found to have contracted the virus at a Conakry hospital in Guinea last week. According to health officials, this was the result of a failure to enforce basic infection control measures. Mistakes such as these were par for the course a year ago when lack of preparation and personal protective gear turned hospitals into Ebola hotbeds, but are now hard to justify after over $2 billion have been sunk in the fight against the virus. “There's a lack of vigilance,” regional health advisor for the French foreign ministry Dr. Jean-Pierre Lamarque said. “We are one year into the epidemic and people are letting their guard down.”

Ebola has ebbed and flowed constantly in Guinea. The latest three infections have resulted in the identification and surveillance of 150 new high-risk contacts just when the outbreak seemed to be in its last legs. Or as Michael Corleone would put it, “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The current situation was described as “pre-explosive” by the minutes of a meeting held by a French coordination team. The largest Ebola hotspot that remains is a chunk of land located behind a 95-mile stretch of coastline between Conakry and Sierra Leone’s Freetown. Many people in this area go back and forth across the border easily even though they have been in contact with Ebola patients.

Moreover, many Guineans remain suspicious of and violent to health workers, according to Guinea country manager for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Jerome Mouton. “Certain people don't seem to want it over and they don't want the government to take the credit for ending it,” senior Ebola operations manager at ECHO, the European Commission's humanitarian aid branch Philippe Maughan added. If they worried about the government ending it, they shouldn’t be – at least not quite yet –; WHO regional director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti president Alpha Conde’s mid-April zero case deadline “very ambitious.”

Liberia and Sierra Leone aren’t faring much better either. In the former, one of the latest Ebola patients went to a hospital repeatedly in January before being diagnosed; in the latter, cases dropped from over 500 in December to about 50 a week, but authorities claim that some people not only disagree with Ebola rules but actively disregard them. Mourners in Kingtom cemetery find burial protocols such as plastic body bags and pallbearers in coveralls are contrary to their loved ones’ last wishes. A Sierra Leone Ebola response team official said that “people are slacking up. The new cases are all to do with the violation of rules – contacts leaving their homes, unsafe burials.” Resultantly, the government is planning a 3-day lockdown to try and identify sick people being kept at home and emphasize anti-Ebola messages.

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