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One year on, the fight against Ebola is not yet over
Overcoming fear and mistrust remains key to fight against Ebola, says Action Against Hunger
London, 24 March 2015 // Since the Ebola epidemic was confirmed a year ago, it has claimed around 10,000 lives and has left thousands in the region facing frightening food insecurity.
While the number of people diagnosed with Ebola is now slowing, the recent confirmation of a new case in Liberia – which had been edging close to being declared Ebola-free – is a stark reminder that the fight against the disease is not yet over.
“A year after the first outbreak medical management of the condition has advanced, but cultural and social barriers are delaying progress,” said Susana Dos Santos, country director of Action Against Hunger in Guinea-Conakry between August 2013 and February 2014. In Guinea-Conakry, where the outbreak was first confirmed, Ebola has claimed more than 2,170 lives.
Families who hide ill relatives, along with claims that Ebola is just a political manoeuvre aimed at distracting the public from water and energy shortages, are examples of fear and myths that have bred distrust and undermined efforts to stem the spread of the virus.
“We are asking the Guinean population not to make contact with sick loved ones, or to bury those who pass away – things that are for religious and cultural reasons very unnatural to them,” said Dos Santos. “This is something unimaginable in a country like Guinea. Time and a great deal of information will be needed for this to start to happen properly.”
Ebola = hunger
Before the Ebola outbreak, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had been making good progress in reducing food insecurity and malnutrition rates. But the Ebola outbreak threatens to derail this.
In October 2014, a report released by Action Against Hunger and the University of Naples Federico III estimated that Ebola could make up to 700,000 additional people undernourished across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ebola has endangered the new agricultural cycle. A reduction in income at national and household level, accentuated by quarantines and mobility restrictions caused by the virus, also invoked an economic crisis.
In Guinea alone, a report by Action Against Hunger revealed the economy has slowed by 75 per cent in some urban areas and 68 per cent in rural areas. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that in the last year food production has dropped by around 130,000 tonnes. Public access to markets has reduced and families are taking drastic coping mechanisms: in Forecariah many families have reduced their daily food rations from two to one serving, and in Conakry from three to two.
"We must add that the country's health system is overwhelmed by the disease, with health workers exhausted after a year of the epidemic and health centres having become places that many people avoid for fear of contracting it, increasing the prevalence of many other diseases related to malnutrition," said Jose Manuel Madrazo, a nutrition technician who has been working in Guinea for the past year.
According to the WHO, one in three people in Ebola-affected areas are afraid to go to a clinic and the number of hospital visits or consultations for other diseases dropped by 50 per cent last year.
Why this was the most serious Ebola outbreak
"Previously, the virus had attacked remote, isolated areas, such as in the Congolese jungle, but this time it erupted in a densely populated area with lots of movement and commercial traffic, close to a triple border that only exists on paper, " says Dos Santos. “This has been lethal.”
What we've been doing
Action Against Hunger has reinforced its work in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, countries where we’ve been working for the past two decades. In addition to raising awareness of ways to avoid the spread of disease, we’ve been monitoring Ebola cases and tracing those who’ve made contact with them. We’ve also been rehabilitating water points, not least to improve hygiene practices.
An anthropologist has also recently joined our team in Guinea-Conakry to help ensure our messages are relevant to and appropriate for local communities.
To find out how the Ebola outbreak has affected children in West Africa, click here.
Read why Action Against Hunger is worried complacency as case numbers drop could lead to a second outbreak of the virus here.