By:- John Moses Kamara (United Kingdom)
Whilst the people of Sierra Leone waits patiently for the symbolic declaration by the World Health Organisation in the next twenty four hours that their country’s Ebola epidemic is over, the road to a full recovery has only just began.
The outbreak in 2014 of ebola viral disease in the worst affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has witnessed unimaginable economic and social devastation that would take many years and concerted efforts to recover from. Many lives have been lost as are livelihoods, hopes and aspirations of many thousands more.
The anticipated announcement to declare Sierra Leone’s Ebola epidemic is over in reality, would change very little immediately for the country and for its long suffering people beyond the psychological consolation that 42 days have passed since the last confirmed case was tested positive for the virus.
But as the case of the British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who was previously treated for the virus shows, the medical and psychological risks could linger on many survivors for a very long time after their cure.
Survivors groups in Sierra Leone report of physical and mental health problems, which have compounded the social, economic and emotional effects of the nations affected.
Liberia may have had its own declaration a few months ago but Guinea is still not quite near to be declared ebola free. The country was the first to record a patient with the virus, and many observers believe it has not been always forthcoming compared to its neighbours about the extent of the outbreak and the number of people tested positive or died.
Given the unchecked movement of people between the three countries, the risk of reoccurrence is palpable and this presents a serious obstacle to achieving a zero case.
The most important issue that makes ebola something that is going to be with us for a very long time to come is the fact that the source of the virus – reportedly from fruit bats – is still there and was recently reported that deforestation could have resulted in the this previously rare specie moving its habitat to live side by side with humans.
This is not been verified widely but is conceivable possibility.
With this scary prospect, perhaps the best hope for humanity is for the availability of an affordable and proven vaccine to prevent further outbreaks of such magnitude and devastation.
This together with improvements in health care and health education throughout the region and beyond could perhaps provide the only way to a lasting eradication of the outbreak.
The outbreak has exposed the nations affected including Sierra Leone about their woefully inadequate health care system and the inability of their respective authorities to deal with health emergencies of this or similar nature.
However painful they may have been, Sierra Leoneans hope that the lessons learned should provide some consolation to them in understanding that the health of a nation is much more than its wealth.