IMAGINE waking up one morning and feeling your temperature rising, your head aching and your throat feeling like sandpaper.
In Australia, there’s little remarkable about those symptoms — you probably have the flu.
But in west Africa, where I am based, the reality can be profoundly terrifying: you may have contracted the Ebola virus.
If you’re one of the thousands who have already contracted this horrible disease, then soon your organs can begin to shut down. You can experience severe bleeding. There’s a high chance you will die.
So far, 960 people have died in west Africa from the Ebola virus, probably the world’s most virulent disease. Thousands have seen friends and relatives die. Children have lost parents and parents have lost children. For anyone touched by Ebola, it has been a terrifying and all too often tragic experience.
Health workers, too, are paying a high price: more than 160 have contracted Ebola and many have died. For people like me, helping the fight against the disease, it is a deeply worrying time as we fear for our colleagues on the front line. We have dedicated 70 staff for frontline support across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and we are pulling together and working hard to turn the tide against Ebola.
While there is currently no licensed vaccine or cure for Ebola, there is certainly prevention. I have felt the fear that is gripping the region, but that fear is not helping to fight the disease. Instead, we need to stop the spread of the virus by spreading awareness, good advice and helping people to take preventive measures.
Rumours spread even faster than the disease and that makes an already challenging response even more complicated.
Understandably, we have seen widespread fear and anxiety among local communities. But helping local governments get accurate information and advice out to often isolated communities is helping to slow the spread of Ebola.
Plan International has conducted public-awareness sessions reaching hundreds of thousands of people across the region, as well as training many hundreds of health workers and distributing disinfections kits and washing devices across the affected countries.
Porous borders, too, have allowed infected people to move the disease to new locations. Now many of those frontiers have been closed, but not before the virus crossed them.
But above all, weak public health systems and poverty are also contributing to Ebola’s steady spread. The countries affected are among the poorest in the world and developed countries like Australia need to be generous in their contributions to the battle against Ebola.
In fact, this deadly outbreak is a wake-up call for the world. We need to build strong public health systems in west Africa, as well early warning systems and we must invest in preparations for potential future outbreaks.
That need is even more pressing now that we have seen Ebola treat national borders with contempt. We have seen cases emerging in Nigeria — apparently carried there on an international flight — and suspected cases are being treated right now in Europe and North America. Just this week, another case has emerged in Nigeria. Even countries throughout the region that have yet to be affected are on high alert.
We see new cases of Ebola every day. The deadly outbreak is still threatening to kill more people in west Africa and beyond.
What we need now is not speculation or misinformation, but global action. We are at a decisive moment in the battle against Ebola and we cannot let the moment pass.
Time is running out fast: millions of lives are at stake and the world needs to act now.
Catherine Noble works for Plan International in West Africa. To support Plan’s response to Ebola, visit plan.org.au or ring 13 75 26.
Source: Herald Sun