Ebola: Why is it so bad? (Part 4)

This post continues a series of posts examining non-biological factors contributing to the Ebola crisis’s severity. This week, we’ll look at the impact of Ebola on other health issues in West Africa. In addition to casualties resulting directly from EVD (Ebola Virus Disease)—the statistics we see in the news—the outbreak has likely caused many other deaths. By battering West Africa’s developing healthcare system, Ebola enables otherwise preventable diseases, especially Malaria and other diseases of poverty, to run rampant.

EVD has taken a terrible toll on medical personnel in West Africa. According to the World Health Organization’s Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Report, published October 15th, 427 healthcare workers have been sidelined by infection with, so far, 236 casualties. Consider the context of these figures: the Washington Post  estimates that, prior to the outbreak, there were only 50 “homegrown” doctors in Liberia (i.e. not counting foreign doctors). Not only is the body count terrible, but the effect on the morale of remaining personnel must also be devastating.

The consequences of Ebola, unfortunately, reach beyond the direct toll on medical personnel and supplies. In an interview with NPR, Laura Miller of the International Rescue Committee in Sierra Leone described broken confidence between communities and medical institutions and revealed that medical staff have been ordered to back off some types of treatments to protect themselves. These effects can be seen in infant vaccination rates in Libera. Before Ebola: 97 percent. Now: 27 percent. According to UNICEF’s Sheldon Yett, there has already been a measles outbreak in a region of Liberia hard-hit by Ebola. Miller, In that interview with NPR, went on to say, “I think in the end, most of those people [who die as a result of the Ebola outbreak] will be women and children, and most of the children will die from just malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea.”

In short, the published Ebola casualty figures are likely multiplied significantly by hindered treatment of other diseases. Ebola’s knock-on effects will likely continue to be felt long after the current epidemic subsides. In the words of UNICEF’s Sheldon Yett: “There’s another storm cloud on the horizon here right now: That’s the storm cloud over the collapse of the health care system itself.

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