15 August 2014

West Africa: 5 Things to Do Right Now about Ebola


It's very difficult to know what to say about the Ebola outbreak. Let me take a crack at it:

First, let's lower the levels of international hysteria. This is a disease which can be contained. It can only be transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids. It doesn't get transmitted through the air, and with the proper medical response and quarantine, we can contain the epidemic.

Second, do not wall off West Africa. Don't cancel all the flights to West Africa. There are many health personnel who want to assist and feel that they can assist. And the countries desperately need doctors and nurses and clinicians and pharmacists and community health workers, people who will respond. And these are countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone whose health systems are entirely dysfunctional and devastated. They've lost doctors and nurses. They need the assistance.

Number three: transfer however modest the number of doses may be of the serum to West Africa. And let it be distributed to those who need it. That will involve excruciating choices of who gets the treatment. But Africa is used to that—many ministers of health in Africa have made those priorities available when they were dealing, for example, with the paucity of drugs to treat HIV and AIDS in the early stages.

Number four: understand the sophistication at community level in Africa. Understand that community health workers can move home to home, village to village, community to community, spreading messages to explain how not to get infected. It does take hold.

And number five: recognize that we are about to deal with stigma. Stigma is still haunting and confounding the response to HIV and AIDS. It will confound some of the response to Ebola, particularly for those who recover from the disease. We should plan for it now.

This is not something that imperils the world. With an urgent and intelligent planned response, the World Health Organization can orchestrate a conclusion.

Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis is co-director and founder of aids-free world [http://www.aidsfreeworld.org/]and Canada's former ambassador to the United Nations, as well as former special envoy on HIV-Aids Envoy for the UN Secretary General

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