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Investors eye profits while poor die of Ebola

This article is over 9 years, 10 months old
The Ebola outbreak could have been contained if people had access to basic hygiene.
Issue 2416
Kenema Hospital Sierra Leone is struggling with limited resources
Kenema Hospital Sierra Leone is struggling with limited resources (Pic: Leasmhar )

The British media are determined to spread fear about the Ebola virus, the disease that has killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa this year.

Kenema Hospital Sierra Leone is struggling with limited resources (Pic: Leasmhar )

There are new scare stories every day about how health services here could be overwhelmed by an epidemic with no known cure.

Such an outbreak in the West is extremely unlikely.

But some of the poorest people in the world—in the West African states of Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—are in serious danger. 

The current outbreak is the largest since the disease was identified in 1976.

Ebola thrives on rural poverty. It is thought to be transmitted from fruit bats to wild animals, which in turn pass it on to livestock and so to humans.

Ebola is not an airborne illness such as flu. It is spread from one human to another through contact with bodily fluids. This means the disease can spread quickly through village communities, but finds it more difficult to transmit to urban areas.

Relatively simple measures could have stopped the latest outbreak from spreading.


If a farmer is able to wash their hands with clean water and soap after contact with herds, it would be enough to prevent most from getting and spreading the sickness.

But in Sierra Leone, as in much of the Global South, soap and water are luxury items.

Survival chances for those that do get the virus are poor. But the headline figure of 90 percent mortality rate hides the fact that quick treatment can improve the odds to 50 percent. 

A simple mixture of glucose and water injected into the bloodstream, along with anti-blood clotting  drugs and good pain medication, can be enough to help relatively fit people survive.

Yet even these basics are out of reach for West Africa’s very poor majority.

Despite a population of 6 million, Sierra Leone has fewer than 200 doctors in its entire public health system, while Guinea has just 

1 doctor for every 10,000 people —the worldwide average is 13 for every 10,000.

Now, with a number of doctors and nurses working in infected areas having themselves contracted Ebola, what remains of healthcare is set to disintegrate.

There is no reason for those treating the sick to also get the virus. Standard infection control 

measures used by hospitals in the West ensure good levels of protection for staff and fellow patients.

In the poorest parts of the world, however, even such basic facilities are the stuff of doctors’ dreams.

But in some parts of the world it seems that money is no object.

Billions of dollars are now pouring into chemical weapons laboratories in the US thought to be working on vaccinations for the few. 

Investors there are betting on making massive profits when what is needed is massive investment in public health care.


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