In recent weeks there has been less and less information in the media about Ebola, so is no news good news? Cat Meredith looks at the situation in West Africa.
The number of new Ebola cases being identified per week in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has dropped considerably since the New Year. However numbers continue to fluctuate so constant vigilance is needed. Any one case of Ebola is a potential outbreak. The emergency is ongoing, while the extent of the long term damage is becoming clearer. At present more than 12,000 children have lost one or both parents to Ebola, the death toll stands at over 9,000 and there have been 23,000 cases of the disease in the three main affected countries.
The World Health Organization has reported that in the week leading up to 11 February the number of new cases increased for the second consecutive week, with 144 new confirmed cases reported. Transmission remains widespread in Sierra Leone and has increased in Guinea, but in Liberia the epidemic seems to be well under control and there were only three new cases of Ebola reported.
Oxfam is continuing with emergency response to end the epidemic, while scaling up immediate recovery work.Oxfam is continuing with emergency response to end the epidemic, while scaling up immediate recovery work. Over the last few weeks our active case finding approach in Liberia has led to the referral of 94 suspected Ebola patients to treatment units, contributing very significantly to the total number of Ebola cases being identified in Liberia. The tracking of exposed people is now highly detailed and geared towards removing the
last cases. Maintaining the trust of affected communities is key to ensuring this works in bringing an end to the epidemic.
In Sierra Leone, where Ebola transmission remains widespread our public health promotion teams are continuing to work with communities to help them overcome barriers to ending the spread of Ebola. We’ve also completed construction of four community care centres for Ebola patients, two in Port Loko and two in the Freetown area. These are being run with medical partner agencies.
We are improving water supplies and installing latrines across our Sierra Leone programmes, in Port Loko, Bombali, Koinadugu and Freetown. This has included installing four water pumps in Port Loko and trucking water to six villages in the Freetown area, including 250 quarantined homes. We’re also providing cash assistance to quarantined homes to prevent people going hungry.
In Liberia our work on improving water and sanitation infrastructure has included digging five new boreholes in Montserrado (the area which includes Liberia’s capital Monrovia). We’ve improved water and sanitation facilities in three health units, we’re currently working on seven health centres, and have plans to work on a further seven. This will leave the country more resilient to future outbreaks of disease, as well as helping to improve all round health and living conditions.
There are plans for some schools to re-open this month in Liberia, and others in March. In order to minimise the risks from re-opening schools we’re improving their water and sanitation facilities, and providing hygiene promotion training for staff. The training will be available for all the schools in and around Monrovia.
It’s important that no time is wasted in getting back on the path to development…
It seems possible to hope that the epidemic will end in 2015 but nothing is certain, and as the media attention fades the immediate response and long term work will continue. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea rank among the world’s poorest countries. It’s important that no time is wasted in getting back on the path to development and lifting people out of poverty and suffering.
Three areas of acute need must be addressed: providing immediate cash support to help families put food on the table, investment in jobs, and strengthening essential services, especially the areas of health care, education, water and sanitation. Oxfam has called for a multi-million dollar post-Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ from the international community to put the three West Africa countries hit by the crisis back on their feet.
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- Mark Goldring ‘Three Realities of Ebola’ on the Huffington Post
- Oxfam calls for massive post-Ebola Marshall Plan
Aminata an Oxfam Community Health Worker, on a tour to share information about Ebola with a community in the Western Area, Sierra Leone. Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam