Why Ebola Probably Caused Thousands More Fatalities Than We Thought

Careful healthcare practices like regular screenings appear to be keeping the last remnants of the Ebola epidemic under control, but new research suggests that the fatalities resulting from the epidemic may, in fact, be double what we thought.

Beginning in 2014, the Ebola outbreak ravaged many West African communities and continued into 2015. By most measures, the impact was devastating.

As of February 2016, official figures from the CDC suggest a death toll of about 11,301 people. Factor in the deaths that happened abroad, and that number comes to 11,316.

Clearly, Ebola is a tricky virus to contain and to beat. While the World Health Organization has declared the epidemic over, small outbreaks and fatalities are still possible, even as West African nations fight to keep the virus from reemerging.

Now that we have a bit of breathing room, though, researchers are beginning to examine what happened during the Ebola crisis. Unfortunately, a disturbing fact has emerged: Ebola may have indirectly caused thousands of fatalities that we failed to anticipate.

Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, published their findings in the journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases.” They conclude, based on United Nations data, that health care clinic attendance dropped dramatically in the wake of the Ebola crisis, falling to just 10 percent in some areas of West Africa.

The reason for this interruption can be attributed to a number of factors. One is certainly that some of the earliest cases of Ebola emerged when health workers themselves fell ill. People may have believed that they were better off to avoid clinics entirely. As a result, routine vaccinations were interrupted and people were left vulnerable to a variety of infectious diseases.

Safety policies like border closures and mandatory curfews, as well as restrictions on general transport, may all have played a part in the drop in clinic attendance rates too, researchers say. Again, these policies interrupted routine health care, including sexual health screenings.

Couple that with nations understandably putting their resources toward fighting Ebola, and it becomes obvious why a significant gap in health services opened up during the crisis. People with chronic and emergency conditions failed to obtain the care they needed, like access to medication and doctors, inevitably leading to a higher fatality rate.

The researchers in this case used existing data and informed-assumptions to model how many fatalities occurred from the decline in clinic attendance. The model assumes that health care services like vaccine programs and HIV testing all shrank by about 50 percent.

Based on this value, the researchers say that an additional 10,623 people probably died from diseases that may have been preventable had local healthcare not come under such an onslaught.

Thus, Ebola’s true impact may have amassed nearly double the fatalities that we’d previously thought.

Researches believe neglected malaria prevention efforts were a major contributing factor during the crisis. This isn’t unexpected, as health workers warned that malaria could become a serious issue.

The findings from this new study will be particularly relevant as the world faces the threat of the Zika virus. The World Health Organization, for example, has already been praised for its swift action on Zika, in stark contrast to how global bodies failed to react when Ebola emerged in 2014. We must incorporate lessons from the Ebola fight into our Zika response to ensure we don’t underestimate potential threats.

“While it’s essential for resources to be targeted at a public health emergency like Ebola, it’s important to consider the indirect impacts of the outbreak as well,” Martial Ndeffo-Mbah of the Yale School of Public Health told the New Scientist.

Ebola’s long shadow and death toll tells us that health care programs must not be allowed to slip as we strive to tackle the threat posed by Zika. That will take a sizable investment and concerted efforts by government bodies and NGOs, but it will be necessary to stop preventable deaths from amassing during the fight against Zika and other epidemics in the years to come.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

51 comments

william Miller
william Miller12 months ago

Thanks

SEND
Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
FOTEINI HORBOU
FOTEINI horbou1 years ago

Sign petition about Ebola:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/553/166/497/demand-an-end-to-ebola-disease-which-killed-90-of-the-western-lowland-gorilla/

SEND
Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

Stop committing suicide

SEND
Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

And if Ebola mutates?

SEND
Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn1 years ago

Many thanks to you !

SEND
s g.
s g1 years ago

WOW!

SEND
Janet B.
Janet B1 years ago

Thanks

SEND
DIane L.
DIane L1 years ago

Hate to say this, but good. We need Mother Nature to do something big to get the human population under control. We are great a reducing "culling" the numbers of other species but not smart enough to control our own. We think we are special.

SEND