Ebola Outbreak Has Ended, But the Crisis Is Far From Over

West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which killed over 11,000 people, has been largely forgotten since the WHO declared the area Ebola-free last year. While smaller outbreaks have trickled in from time to time, on the international stage, it seems the worst is over. This assumption, that things are now ready to move forward, could turn out to be incredibly dangerous. 

For those left to deal with the aftermath in these countries, life remains at a standstill. Trauma is Ebola’s lingering legacy. And these issues are only escalated by the fact that Liberia, Sierra Leone and to a lesser extent, Guinea, are all coming out of years of conflict.

After the Liberian war it was estimated that around half the population suffered from PTSD. In Sierra Leone more than 90 percent rated their mental health outlook as “fair” to “poor.” Janice Cooper who works at the Carter Center explained to Reuters why this was compounded during the Ebola epidemic, “Both crises saw bodies pile up in the streets and people flee in panic…This led to a lack of trust and social cohesion, which fuel trauma.”

Facilities and healthcare workers are attempting to deal with the high rates of trauma now permeating throughout West Africa. But with sparse facilities, healthcare is difficult to access. In Liberia there are an estimated 166 mental health clinicians. In Sierra Leone there is one hospital that treats for mental health disorders, and in Guinea there has been no national budget allocation for the treatment of mental health. Meaning those who need care must pay out of pocket. 

Stigma has also negatively affected those who’ve survived Ebola or put their lives on the line to combat the disease. Nurses, caretakers and those who buried bodies have not only been asked to leave their villages, but some haven’t even been paid for their work. Others are reported to be denied healthcare for fear they are still carrying the virus.

And for citizens who didn’t understand the disease, the trauma in Ebola’s aftermath can be devastating. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) explains that this has caused increasing concerns over security:

Neighborhood quarantines, nighttime curfews, and states of emergency have been imposed. In these poverty-burdened countries, economies are declining, borders and markets have been closed, travel to and from West Africa has been curtailed, trade and agricultural production have faltered, and hunger is widespread, creating cascades of losses and psychological stress above and beyond the fear-provoking consequences of the disease itself.”

Another under-reported side effect of the virus was an increase in sexual assaults. According to a report published by Foreign Policy, teenage pregnancy rates in Sierra Leone jumped by nearly 65 percent in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Similar surges were also reported in Liberia and Guinea.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive that people would seek such intimate contact during an outbreak of disease, for those within quarantine areas, high tensions and a feeling as though the world was coming to an end, led to an increase in violence against women and girls. Monica Onyango an assistant professor at Boston University summed up the situation succinctly for FP, “Epidemics are just like a conflict situation. You have a loss of governance; you have chaos and instability; and all of that leaves women vulnerable to gender-based violence.”

And this issue is only exacerbated by the stigma of young mothers in West Africa. In Sierra Leone, for example, a pregnant girl cannot attend school.

All of this leaves West Africa in a precarious situation. One that cannot be overlooked just because the world has moved onto the latest virus. Various international health organizations are attempting to put together mental health programs in these countries, but with funding and attention turned away, the vast majority of victims will remain untreated.

Photo Credit: CDC Global/Wikimedia

39 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Peggy B.
Peggy B1 years ago

Interesting article.

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Ron B.
Ron B1 years ago

Thanks mostly to our own actions, the Four Horsemen are breathing down our necks. We haven't seen anything yet.

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn P1 years ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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sandra vito
Sandra V1 years ago

Thanks

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Birgit W.
Birgit W1 years ago

Thanks.

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Anne Moran
Anne M1 years ago

How can one not suffer from PTSD after seeing bodies piled up on the streets... People don't just go back to their humdrum lives, they must live with the psychological aftermath, that weighs heavily, and continuously on their minds... Sad...

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Janet B.
Janet B1 years ago

Thanks

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Susan H.
Susan H1 years ago

A disease caused by eating animals and then looking for a cure by vivisecting them.

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Miriam O.

Thank you very much for sharing and for caring! Bad news for sure!

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