It’s been a long trip for Dr. Kent Brantly and his colleague Nancy Writebol, but after weeks back in the United States and in confinement, the two have been officially declared recovered from the life threatening and highly contagious Ebola virus. The two Americans, who had been working in Liberia in a missionary group that was helping patients suffering from the disease before contracting it themselves, were airlifted back to the U.S. at the end of July to undergo more radical and experimental treatment.
For them, it was a success.
“Brantly’s condition started to improve dramatically within an hour after getting [experimental ZMapp] serum, according to Samaritan’s Purse, but it’s unclear if the improvement was directly related to the medication,” reports ABC News. “After his health stabilized, Brantly was evacuated on a specially outfitted plane to Atlanta in early August to the hospital isolation ward.”
Doctors aren’t entirely sure if the drug was partially responsible for Brantly’s recovery, or if it had no bearing and it was the additional care he received at the hospital that helped pull him through. What they do know is that he is now recovered and the virus is gone.
Those still in Liberia aren’t nearly as fortunate, for the most part, as the disease continues to spread, and women, especially, are hardest hit. Buzzfeed’s Jina Moore, reporting from Liberia, tells the story of a number of women caretakers who are disproportionately catching the near fatal virus. “The Ministry of Health says fully 75% of the Ebola deaths it has counted are women, but it doesn’t release disaggregated mortality statistics,” writes Moore. “But Tolbert Nyenswah, the assistant minister of health who provided the estimate, agrees that whatever the number, women bear the biggest mortality burden of this disease. Culturally, they are expected to do the caretaking. ‘In this country,’ he said, ‘men are bullshit.’”
According to Moore, the predominance of women as caretakers, combined with the lack of protective equipment to keep them safe from catching the virus while they tend to the sick, is what is making women contract the virus — and die — in greater numbers. But the sickness and death isn’t just coming from Ebola, but from the hospital crisis that is accompanying the outbreak. Patients sick with other medical issues are being turned away out of fear that they might also have Ebola, and that the medical personnel could contract the disease from their blood or other bodily fluid.
People are dying from lack of basic medical care, mainly due to panic and an overwhelmed medical system. “Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf foresaw precisely this problem,” reports Moore in another powerful article on the crisis. “‘The epidemic is having a chilling effect on the overall health care delivery,’ Sireaf said, when she declared a state of emergency nearly two weeks ago. ‘Out of fear of being infected with the disease, health care practitioners are afraid to accept new patients, especially in community clinics all across the country. Consequently, many common diseases which are especially prevalent during the rainy season, such as malaria, typhoid, and common cold, are going untreated and may lead to unnecessary and preventable deaths.’”
In Liberia, neighborhoods are still under quarantine in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, and some of those areas are turning to violence as soldiers attempt to keep those barriers intact. Supplies such as sanitizer are running out, food is becoming scarce in the poorest of neighborhoods, and in one case the military has actively fired live rounds upon those in the quarantine zone who tried to leave.
“Police in the Liberian capital fired live rounds and tear gas on Wednesday to disperse a stone-throwing crowd trying to break an Ebola quarantine imposed on their neighbourhood, as the death toll from the epidemic in West Africa hit 1,350,” reports Reuters. ”In the sprawling oceanfront West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia, at least four people were injured in clashes with security forces, witnesses said. It was unclear whether anyone was wounded by the gunfire, though a Reuters photographer saw a young boy with his leg largely severed just above the ankle.”
Official travel bans are going into effect in a hope to curb the spread, but with thousands already sick and well over a thousand dead, the World Health Organization projects it will be “many more months” before the crisis is over. Those most likely to remain at high risk, according to officials? Health care workers and those who are assisting in burial practices. As for treatment, the drug used by Brantly and others has already run out, and there appears to be little likelihood that anyone is spending money developing any other potential cures.
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