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Thu May 26 18:35:37 SAST 2016

Ebola has taught the world a harsh but valuable lesson

The Times Editorial | 20 January, 2016 00:38

The announcement by the World Health Organisation that the worst ever outbreak of Ebola was over was met with a muted response.

After all, Liberia, one of three west African countries to be overwhelmed by the disease, had twice previously been declared Ebola-free, only for cases of the deadly haemorrhagic fever to flare up again. And, even as the WHO was making its declaration, a suspected Ebola death was reported in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

But the announcement is a significant milestone in the fight against an epidemic that killed more than 11 000 people after starting in the forests of eastern Guinea in late 2013, before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Hundreds of health workers contracted the virus and died as desperate patients swamped hopelessly ill-equipped health facilities in countries ravaged by decades of war and underdevelopment.

Initially, the international community was criticised for responding too slowly and ineffectively, and it was left to local medical personnel and volunteers from organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières to try to stem an epidemic that became a global emergency at its zenith in 2014.

But slowly the world did get its act together and an effective, co-ordinated campaign began to take shape.

The US, Cuba and China put aside their differences and joined dozens of other countries, including South Africa, in sending military and medical personnel, equipment and expertise to fight Ebola.

As the search for a vaccine continues, important lessons have been learned about dealing with outbreaks such as that of Ebola, and the world will be better prepared.

Far more money needs to be ploughed into research and development in order to find an effective, cheap antidote to Ebola.

The next step surely is to find ways of helping the countries ravaged by the epidemic to ramp up their healthcare infrastructure and train more doctors and nurses.


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