The Ebola outbreak, which began in Guinea and spread throughout West Africa for over two years, officially killed 11,316 people. The outbreak of Ebola, which was by far the largest in the history of the hemorrhagic disease’s history, swept through West Africa with frightening speed and intensity; it was responsible for quarantines, mass panic, and the spread of the disease to nations far beyond the virus’s known origin. Now, New Scientist reports that the Ebola outbreak that terrified the entire world may have been responsible for almost twice as many deaths as have been reported.
So, how could such a discrepancy in the death toll have occurred?
According to a new analysis, an additional 10,623 people lost their lives as a result of the Ebola outbreak due to other diseases because of the massive impact that the Ebola outbreak had on local healthcare resources. While local and world health officials worked tirelessly to battle the spread of the Ebola virus during the outbreak, resources that would have gone to the treatment and prevention of other illness, such as HIV, malaria, and TB were diverted.
“While it’s essential for resources to be targeted at a public health emergency like Ebola, it’s important to consider the indirect impacts of the outbreak as well.”
According to the study “Effects of Response to 2014–2015 Ebola Outbreak on Deaths from Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and Tuberculosis, West Africa,” published in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, the Ebola outbreak may have reduced resources for other infectious diseases by as much as 50 percent.
The study, which was led by Martial Ndeffo-Mbah of the Yale School of Public Health, this is most likely an underestimate of the true impact of the Ebola outbreak on the treatment of other communicable diseases. According to the team, during the Ebola outbreak, visits to health clinics in some locations plummeted to a mere 10 percent of normal. This decline in clinic visits is attributed to families who chose to stay home to avoid potential exposure to Ebola.
The potential repercussions of these missed or cancelled appointments is staggering and potentially devastating. Many children would have missed such critical preventative care as routine vaccines, and others who may have been suffering from the symptoms of malaria were less likely to be taken to the doctor by their parents for early treatment of the potentially deadly illness.
While the impact from the Ebola outbreak is believed to also have prevented people from receiving their regular prescription drugs for treatment of chronic conditions and to manage the symptoms/progression of HIV and/or tuberculosis, it is estimated that untreated malarial infections would be the single largest cause of the additional deaths that took place during the outbreak.
Liberia, the last country affected by the Ebola outbreak, was declared Ebola-free in January of 2016 by the World Health Organization. Despite that long-sought declaration, the far-reaching effects of the unprecedented Ebola outbreak are yet to be fully known or understood. Just this week, a U.K. nurse named Pauline Cafferkey was re-admitted to a hospital for the third time as a result of contracting Ebola during the outbreak. While she has “recovered” twice from the most severe of the Ebola virus, it still remains present in her body. Cafferkey reportedly initially contracted the virus in 2014 in Sierra Leone, while aiding in the treatment of the infected in that West African nation.
While the Ebola outbreak was devastating, it did prompt global health officials to better prepare themselves for the potential of future outbreaks of the devastating virus. Since the 2014 outbreak began, a multitude of new diagnostic methods, treatments, and vaccines have entered the development stages. Overall, there are 13 diagnostic kits, 15 treatments, and 13 vaccines currently in the works, and some of the results have been very encouraging. One vaccine, currently referred to as VSV-ZEBOV, appears to protecting against the Ebola virus at a rate of 100 percent in trials so far.
Even now that the last impacted country has been declared Ebola-free, we are still learning just how much devastation the Ebola outbreak wrought on those it touched.
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