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Doctors Look to Prevent Another Ebola Epidemic

  • Carol Pearson

Liberians celebrated the end of the Ebola epidemic after the World Health Organization made it official on May 9. But the focus now is to prevent the next Ebola outbreak from becoming an epidemic.

Dr. David Heymann, who heads Public Health England, said, "This outbreak was different because the initial response was not robust enough to stop it while it was still rural or in very small clusters in urban areas."

The WHO and the international community were criticized for being slow to respond, but the WHO lacks the funds to provide the kind of response that was needed. Even so, the WHO's assistant director-general of health security, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, said his organization put a huge effort into the outbreak from the very beginning.

"There’s been a kind of image that nothing was done in the beginning, when that is very far from the truth," he said. "Lots of people were deployed. Experts were sent out into the field. Communications were raised to high levels to bring notice that we were dealing with a complex situation."

Medecins Sans Frontieres is one organization that cared for Ebola patients from the start of the outbreak. In March, 2014, MSF warned that the Ebola outbreak was "unprecedented" in its geographic spread.

Last June, MSF described the outbreak as being "out of control." The organization criticized the initial international response, but Dr. Armand Sprecher of MSF, who specializes in hemorrhagic fevers, said a greater initial response might not have made much difference.

"I don’t know if getting more people involved early on would have changed things," he said, "because part of the problem was getting the community on board."

Signs and radio announcements told people how to stop the infection from spreading. But it was hard to get people to stop touching the bodies of loved ones who had died of Ebola.

In a war-torn, impoverished country, health care suffers, which is one reason why Ebola exploded in West Africa, Dr. Peter Hotez told VOA.

"One of the reasons why we're seeing such lethal epidemics," he said, "is that they are occurring in countries that have incurred decades of civil war and have had total breakdown of public health infrastructures."

Hotez, who heads the National School of Tropical Medicine, said he is keeping an eye on the Middle East because he expects contagious diseases to re-emerge with a vengeance there, especially in Iraq and Syria because of war and lack of basic health care.

Meanwhile, in Liberia, children are once again getting vaccinated in an effort to prevent other epidemics. And health officials are hoping Ebola doesn't again cross the border from Guinea, as it did at the beginning of the outbreak last year.

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