In the past two months, this blog has gone from 23 followers to 360+ and many of you have reached out to me asking what you can do to help. The same question has been on my mind ever since I was removed from Guinea.
In a recent Huffington Post piece David Nabarro, a senior U.N. coordinator for the outbreak, said “[it] is advancing ahead of us, it’s accelerating ahead, and we in our control efforts, collectively, are falling behind. Every country in the world needs to be thinking ‘what can we do to help?’ Because if we don’t get on top of this outbreak as a global community then this could effect all of us in unexpected ways.”
I’ve got two suggestions for my readers.
1. Give money.
Financially, this outbreak has only just in the past few weeks begun to receive the international aid attention it deserves. Still, there’s not enough. Personal protective equipment for health workers, gloves, sanitizing solutions, hydration fluids, pain medications, food — they’re all lacking.
Ella Watson-Stryker, working with the Doctors Without Borders emergency response team in Sierra Leone, has said they are “fighting a forest fire with spray bottles.” She laments,
We’re sorry that we don’t have a medicine proven safe and effective to kill the Ebola virus. We’re sorry that we don’t have a vaccine. We’re sorry that we’ve failed to stop the epidemic. We know we should be doing more but we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the staff. Some days it feels like it doesn’t matter how hard we work because there aren’t enough of us.
The call for help is there and we have the means to answer. If you are interested in helping financially, the answer isn’t going out to the store and buying $50 of gloves and mailing them to West Africa. Cash donations will have the biggest impact on the relief efforts. I believe that the best organization to donate to is Doctors Without Borders. As an agency, they cannot earmark your donation for the Ebola outbreak — they are an aid organization that responds to the most pressing global medical needs. But right now, that need is in West Africa, and these are the people on the ground.
These are the people teaming up with local health care workers and doctors. These are the people providing support to patients. These are the people risking their lives to save others. These are the heroes.
2. Educate yourself, and then educate others.
Money isn’t the only answer to fighting this outbreak. We’re also fighting an outbreak of misinformation. Educate yourself and when you hear a family member or a friend speaking falsely about the Ebola outbreak, educate them. Remind people that Africa is a vast, diverse, rich continent — that there are greater than one billion humans there beyond the few thousand talked about daily in the US news circuit.
Talking points about Ebola virus and illness transmission
- Infection is transmitted through direct contact with blood or secretions of an infected person, or exposure to objects (like needles) contaminated with infected secretions
- The outbreak has been spreading wildly in West Africa because it has never before occurred in this area and communal care of ill family members is very common
- The disease also spreads quickly through health care settings, with the nurses and doctors treating the patients often getting infected themselves. Masks, gowns, gloves, and proper sanitation of all nurses, doctors, and health care workers is necessary at all times to avoid contracting the illness. Wearing these outfits in the heat of West Africa is very extreme and can only be tolerated for 1 or 2 hours at a time
- Symptoms of the illness may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure
- The current outbreak has a survival rate of 47%, contrary to previous outbreaks with a mortality rate of up to 90%
What is the risk to me / my family / my country?
- Low to none!!!
- Risk to travelers in West Africa is very low in absence of direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person
- While new studies are pointing out that the risk of Ebola cases popping up in U.S., Europe, and other African countries is increasing with time it is extremely important to note that analysts state that “what we could expect, if there is an importation, would be very small clusters of cases, between one and three.”
- There will not be an outbreak of this scale in America because we have high quality health care, health infrastructure, and place trust in our health and government officials
Side effects of the Ebola outbreak
- USAID reports that the current outbreak is negatively affecting food security and access to livelihoods and basic health care services — people cannot find food, cannot work in their fields, and cannot find doctors for other basic health care needs
- U.N. World Food Program has declared a Level 3 emergency — the highest for this organization — in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, and is providing food assistance to patients, quarantined communities, and other vulnerable populations
- UNICEF reports rising food prices in Liberia
Why is this outbreak so serious?
- First Ebola outbreak to reach West Africa so health workers were not used to the extreme cautionary procedures
- First Ebola outbreak to leave rural villages and arrive in major, urban capitols with populations in the millions — high risk for spreading to others due to high density population
- Lack of education about how the virus spreads
- Misinformation — many people deny that the virus even exists because there are several other illnesses common this time of year with similar symptoms (malaria, dengue fever, lassa fever)
- Fear — West Africans are very social and communal and to have to be quarantined or quarantine a loved one when they are ill goes against every cultural and religious tradition. Fear of this quarantine has led many people to lie to health officials about their own illness or to hide family members, escape from hospitals, or steal back dead bodies of loved-ones to complete burial rites
Remember the context of these countries. Read the full NPR interview with Lewis Brown, the Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, from which I’ve taken the following quote (bold added for emphasis):
Our country, Liberia, has come a long way in its development, in its progress. Over the last 10 years [since the civil war ended], we’ve covered a lot of ground — but we would be the first to admit that we’re not where we thought we could be. So our hope is that, as this virus has rightly so exposed many of the weaknesses of our country, that it [does not end up] hurting the country and undermining its stability.
I say that because often if things don’t get put into context, then we lose the full picture. And, as you will find, it’s so easy. And we will continue to encourage, at home and abroad, discordant voices to be heard, in our mind not because they’re right, but because they have a right to say it.
And in exercising that right, especially at this point, we’re hoping that we can focus not just on saving lives but giving people a way of sustaining their livelihood. That is the challenge we face today. And for us, there’s nothing bigger than this. Because we know we will win this fight [against Ebola], we must win this fight or else all of us get consumed by it. We must — there’s no choice here.