With nations in West Africa facing the biggest and most complex outbreak of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in history, the United States is stepping up assistance to confront the disease.
An additional 50 U.S. disease control specialists will soon travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the nations at the center of the epidemic, to provide technical assistance and help health officials there with emergency operations. They will also help bolster medical laboratories in the region that test for the disease, and help screen air travelers to identify passengers who may have been infected..
Top U.S. health officials discussed further aid with leaders from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria who are attending the U.S.-African Leaders Summit in Washington this week. Medical supplies and expertise are badly needed to combat a disease that has killed at least 900 people and infected more than 1700, African officials say.
There is no known cure for Ebola, which is spread through contact with bodily fluids and causes symptoms including fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea, and can lead to internal bleeding. Supportive care, such as replacing lost fluids and administering drugs, can improve a patient’s chances of survival.
Two Americans who contracted Ebola while working in a clinic in Liberia are receiving experimental antibody treatments after medical evacuation to the U.S. If further testing proves the antibodies effective, they may offer hope against future cases of the disease in Africa, but they are unlikely to be ready for widespread use in the current outbreak, medical experts say.
U.S. health agencies responded quickly to requests from West Africa when the scope of the problem was known. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coordinated testing of samples from suspected cases of Ebola infection. The U.S. Agency for International Development is funding a mobile laboratory in Guinea that can quickly do tests in suspected cases of the disease. Under another USAID grant, protective equipment is being provided to health care workers treating the sick. Monies have been provided to fund a public information campaign to help people protect themselves from infection.
Such health crises threaten us all and require a wide-ranging, international response. As seen in efforts on other health threats such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, the United States is helping lead the way.