17 Oct 2014

Diarrhea kills six times more people then Ebola every day in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria

The outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa is leading to panic-stricken headlines around the world. That's understandable: the disease has killed nearly 4,500 people since the current outbreak began. But its death toll is dwarfed by the casualties inflicted day in, day out, by malaria and Aids. Even diarrhoea kills almost seven times more people per day in the region.
That does not necessarily mean that the risks of Ebola have been over-stated. What alarms the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, as well as residents of West Africa, is that transmission of Ebola appears to be accelerating. By contrast the toll from malaria, diarrhoea and Aids is regular and predictable.
Nevertheless, even if Ebola could quickly be brought under control, West Africa would still face a public health crisis – and one which it would face with far less international support. 
THE first reported case in the Ebola outbreak ravaging west Africa dates back to December 2013, in Guéckédou, a forested area of Guinea near the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Travellers took it across the border: by late March, Liberia had reported eight suspected cases and Sierra Leone six. By the end of June 759 people had been infected and 467 people had died from the disease, making this the worst ever Ebola outbreak. The numbers do not just keep climbing, they are accelerating. As of October 12th, 8,997 cases and 4,493 deaths had been reported worldwide, the vast majority of them in these same three countries. Many suspect these estimates are badly undercooked.
 
Ebola still barely rates among the continent’s big killers. Far more deaths are attributable every day in west Africa to malaria, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS. But the spread of infections means that death rates are rising fast: from four a day in August to 14 now. There are no licensed treatments or vaccines (although scientists are working all out to rectify that). The assumption that an Ebola outbreak could always be managed—the disease is hard to catch and people are only contagious when they are showing symptoms—is under strain.
 
The inadequacies of the health-care systems in the three most-affected countries help to explain how the Ebola outbreak got this far. Spain, whose first locally transmitted case was confirmed on October 6th, spends over $3,000 per person at purchasing-power parity on health care; for Sierra Leone, the figure is just under $300. The World Health Organisation estimates that Liberia needs just under 3,000 treatment beds for Ebola; its current capacity is 620. The United States, which suffered its first Ebola fatality this week, has 245 doctors per 100,000 people; Guinea has one. The particular vulnerability of health-care workers to Ebola is therefore doubly tragic: as of October 12th there had been 427 cases among medical staff in the three west African countries, and 236 deaths.

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