Ebola virus disease, a highly infectious and deadly disease, continues to claim lives in West Africa.
The first country hit by the current outbreak was Guinea, where suspected cases were registered in February. Since then, the virus has spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, and as the numbers of victims rises, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it an international health emergency.
The disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids of other infected people or animals. There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola. Although the fatality rates of patients struck down with Ebola are high, it need not be fatal. Patients who receive early treatment – which consists primarily of intense rehydration-, have a higher chance of survival. It is vital that the disease be contained, and health authorities and humanitarian actors are working together with communities to do just that.
Since the first cases of the current outbreak surfaced in Guinea the Red Cross Society of Guinea, with support from the International Federation of the Red Cross and in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners including WHO, UNICEF and Médecins Sans Frontières, has put in place mitigation measures to contain the disease and to prevent it from becoming widespread. Interventions are focusing on working with communities in both affected and non-affected areas, to ensure they understand how to protect themselves from Ebola and how to prevent the virus from spreading. The Red Cross Societies in Sierra Leone and in Liberia are carrying out similar efforts there.
Many of the communities affected by this outbreak are in rural areas, often without access to television or radio. Ignorance and superstition and rumours increase fear in these areas, and people are often distrustful of outsiders – such as humanitarian or health workers – coming to help them tackle Ebola. It is vital to have a relationship of trust with the communities, so that life-saving messages can be delivered and understood.
The local volunteers of the Red Cross Societies on the ground in the affected countries are playing an active role by providing people with accurate information and advice on how to protect themselves and prevent the disease from spreading. Red Cross volunteers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are organizing education and awareness campaigns in the most at-risk communities to teach people how to prevent the spread of the disease, while trying to reduce the fear and stigma attached to it. They are also involved in disinfecting the homes of confirmed cases, removing dead bodies, identifying and tracking those who have come into contact with suspected cases and providing psychosocial support to affected families. The Red Cross has also provided survivor kits to affected populations, and personal protective equipment to local health authorities.