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Ebola – hope turning to measured optimism

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Ms Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who contracted the Ebola virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone has returned again to the London Royal Free Hospital, the same hospital which gave her the all-clear ten months ago.  At the time, the volunteer nurse for Save the Children, a UK-based charity mentioned that she was “happy” to be alive and although still feeling “weak”, there was no doubt in her mind that she would return back to Freetown to help.  Her volunteering duties might today be far from her mind as doctors treating her consider her condition to be “critical”.

Cafferkey is not the only person who has experienced a return of the illness after being given the all-clear.  Dr Ian Crozier, another volunteer, returned also to hospital after experiencing trouble with his vision.  In the 1995 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 15% of the survivors developed problem with their vision and some even experienced blindness as a result.

All this has caused the medical community to dampen the hope they had when these volunteers and others recovered.  Because now, it is being proven that an end of the infection does not signal an end of Ebola.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) is currently in Liberia where he is working with officials there to conduct a study into the long term effects of Ebola.  Dr Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. is also in favour of studies to be carried out.  With some 17,000 survivors, doctors have a better chance of understanding the virus.  He also advocates for survivors to be educated about the complications from Ebola as well as access to healthcare to prevent long-term consequences like blindness.

However, one of the reasons why Ebola spread so quickly in those countries was due to the fragile healthcare systems.  The 14 yearlong civil war in Liberia saw many hospitals and clinics destroyed.  Today, 76,000 Liberians are attended to by 1 doctor.  The country is very much reliant on the international community for health infrastructure and aid.

Several organisations are currently in Liberia doing that work of awareness.  Because another outbreak will be even more deadly than the previous one.

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