Editorial: Another Ebola battle won

 

Ebola Virus - Wikimedia Commons

Ebola. – Photo: NIAD

On January 18, the World Health Organization and the Malian government declared Mali free of the Ebola virus disease. Mali is the third country after Nigeria and Senegal to become free of the deadly disease. A country should have had no new cases of Ebola for a continuous period of 42 days, which is a cycle of two incubation periods of 21 days, for it to be declared free of the virus. This is a particularly remarkable achievement for Mali, given the fact that it shares a porous, 800-km-long border with Guinea. After all, on December 26, 2013, the first case of Ebola virus that led to the unprecedented crisis in West Africa was found in a remote village in Guinea. Also, Mali became the sixth West African country to record a case of Ebola when a two-year-old girl with symptoms arrived from Guinea in October last year. Even in this moment of victory, Mali has to remember that it has now only won a battle. As long as the war against Ebola remains unfinished in West Africa as a whole, Mali must not lower its guard as new cases can always come up. After all, the country once experienced a similar situation in November 2014 when it came so close to being declared free of the Ebola virus, before a “second wave” of infections delayed such a declaration. The good news is that there has been a “turning point” in the Ebola crisis with the number of new cases reported in the three worst-affected countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — falling in recent weeks. According to the WHO, as on January 21, 2015 all of 8,683 people have died of Ebola, and the number of cases so far is more than 21,759.

In all, if only eight cases and six deaths occurred in Mali, which are fewer than Nigeria with 20 cases and eight deaths, the reason for that is the unprecedented efforts to contain the disease from the very beginning. Starting with tracing every person who had come in contact with the sick girl on her journey from Guinea and, at one point, placing nearly 600 people under daily observation, the government, health workers and citizens acted aggressively to stamp out the disease before it turned into a crisis situation. The massive public awareness campaign, monitoring along the border, a fully geared public health system and precautions taken by people on their own helped Mali to stamp out the virus. Of course, the sombre awareness of the crisis playing out in the three worst-affected countries had a major role to play in this process. India has a lesson to learn from the way Nigeria and Mali have handled the Ebola outbreaks. Though some vital precautionary steps were taken, the small number of centres that are capable of testing for the virus and the lack of quarantine facilities at major airports indicate a low level of preparedness to counter the virus.

Published in The Hindu on January 24, 2015

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