An epidemic of one of the world’s most dangerous diseases continues to ravage several Western African nations, where more than 1,300 people have been infected and nearly 900 have died. This strain of the deadly Ebola virus — which causes diarrhea, vomiting, organ failure, and spontaneous bleeding — is killing about 60 percent of the people who become infected. “The situation will probably get worse before it gets better,” Liberian information minister Lewis Brown told Reuters this week. “We are over-stretched. We need support; we need resources; we need workers.”
As doctors say the outbreak is spinning out of control in a region that lacks an adequate health care infrastructure, here’s how the international community is working to respond:
1. Declaring a state of emergency and closing schools.
The Western African nations struggling to stop the spread of Ebola have taken some extreme precautions to contain the highly contagious disease. As the New York Times reports, Sierra Leone has issued a state of public health emergency and has banned most public gatherings. Doctors there are going door-to-door to attempt to locate people who may be infected with the virus. Liberian officials have closed schools and urged residents to avoid “public amusement and entertainment centers.” Nigeria is screening all airport passengers for potential symptoms. Still, some experts say the recent efforts are long overdue considering the fact that Ebola has plagued the region since March, and are criticizing government leaders for failing to implement effective quarantines earlier.
2. Loaning hundreds of millions of dollars to the countries hit hardest by Ebola.
On Monday, during a summit in Washington focused on the United States’ involvement in Africa, international development banks committed $260 million in emergency loans for Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. As much as $200 million of that will come from the World Bank. The money is intended to bolster the impoverished countries’ health systems, which have been severely strained by the recent outbreak. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said he’s “deeply saddened” at how Ebola is contributing to the breakdown of “already weak health systems in the three countries.”
3. Suspending flights to the affected regions.
British Airways has now cut off the only direct flights between Britain and the West African countries battling Ebola, cancelling its flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia beginning on Tuesday. The Dubai-based airline Emirates has suspended its flights to Guinea, and the Pan-African airlines Arik and ASKY have suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Other airlines are operating as usual, although U.S. health officials did issue a travel warning on Thursday for the three affected West African nations.
4. Sending in troops to help control the spread of the epidemic.
Officials for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the United States is “surging its response” to the deadly epidemic, sending dozens of American health experts to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to assist with laboratory work and help track the spread of the virus. On Monday, the Pentagon also confirmed that a small team from the Department of Defense is also on the ground to help coordinate the response. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone and Liberia deployed hundreds of troops this week in an attempt to better quarantine the rural communities that have been hit hardest by Ebola.
5. Experimenting with potential treatments to combat the virus.
So far, there have been two Americans infected with Ebola, and national attention here at home has honed in on their treatment. The patients are essentially science experiments, being treated with a “secret serum” that hasn’t before been tested in humans. There’s no vaccine and no cure available for Ebola, so doctors are using an experimental drug cocktail that’s shown promise treating the virus in monkeys. There are about half a dozen Ebola drugs and vaccines currently in development, and U.S. researchers are hoping that the current outbreak may spur the Food and Drug Administration to put some of them on the fast track to approval.