LIBERIA-WAFRICA-HEALTH-EBOLAFriends, when it comes to the scourge of ebola, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand.

Well, let me speak about myself. I’ll admit that since news of the ebola crisis broke out, while I watched with horror and deep compassion for those suffering terribly with this disease, I was also gripped with a strong sense of helplessness. I wanted to scoop those affected into my arms, like young Saah Exxo (RIP), but seriously what could I, living halfway round the world, really do to help? I can’t leave my household at the drop of a hat and travel to the affected nations with a young baby and besides I’m not even medically qualified to volunteer my services.

However one night this week,  I couldn’t sleep. I paced the house, my mind and heart crowded with the faces of those hurting in West Africa. Surely there was some form of action I could take. These were my brothers and sisters after all, and despite our distance, I had to reach out and do whatever possible.

After some thought, I came up with the following steps which I’m committed to acting on to the best of amy ability. I hope that you too will be inspired to get involved. For the sake of the entire planet, we ought to let go of the fear, seek as much information about the disease and support the international medical response. The people of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria deserve it.

Step 1: Learn

One of the first key issues around any outbreak is education. Don’t believe everything you read or hear in passing (or in the news – many newspapers floundering in their sales are using the fear factor and hyping up headlines to drive more traffic).

More importantly, don’t stigmatise those from the nations affected. They’ve been numerous reports of mistreatment, bullying and a general lack of empathy, especially to those who’ve traveled from the region and in some cases are innocent, healthy Africans living abroad. They don’t need our derision, they instead deserve our compassion and respect.

Instead of giving in to fear, dig deep to find out the truth about the disease (not found in the popular rumour mills). I was appalled the other day to hear how a friend of mine working in Ghana and on her way to Australia for a short visit, was categorically told by an acquaintance she’d planned to visit while in Sydney,  not to approach her, in the fear that she may be carrying ebola.  Besides the fact that my friend would not be irresponsible enough, or even allowed to travel were she infected, Ghana has not had one case of ebola reported, and the chances of that happening are miniscule, given the aggressive  precautionary measures the country, like many in Africa, are taking to prevent the spread of the disease.

The hysteria and ignorance gripping people is based on false reports and it’s important, that as a responsible global citizen, you teach yourself the realities of the disease.

Here are 10 quick facts to get you started:

1. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a disease caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. There five are: Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), Bundibugyo ebolavirus (BDBV), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), Taï Forest ebolavirus (TAFV) and Reston ebolavirus (RESTV). Four of the strains can cause severe illness in humans and animals. The fifth, Reston virus, has caused illness in some animals, but not in humans.

2. The first human outbreaks occurred in 1976, one in northern Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Central Africa: and the other, in southern Sudan (now South Sudan). The virus is named after the Ebola River, where the virus was first recognised in 1976, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Ebola is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious. It is infectious, because an infinitesimally small amount can cause illness. Laboratory experiments on nonhuman primates suggest that even a single virus may be enough to trigger a fatal infection. Instead, Ebola could be considered moderately contagious, because the virus is not transmitted through the air. The most contagious diseases, such as measles or influenza, virus particles are airborne.

4. Humans can be infected by other humans if they come in contact with body fluids from an infected person or contaminated objects from infected persons. Humans can also be exposed to the virus, for example, by butchering infected animals. Ebola is not transmissible if someone is asymptomatic or once someone has recovered from it. However, the virus has been found in semen for up to three months.

5. While the exact reservoir of Ebola viruses is still unknown, researchers believe the most likely natural hosts are fruit bats.

6. Symptoms of Ebola typically include: weakness, fever, aches, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain. Additional experiences include rash, red eyes, chest pain, throat soreness, difficulty breathing or swallowing and bleeding (including internal).

7. Typically, symptoms appear 8-10 days after exposure to the virus, but the incubation period can span two to 21 days.

8. Unprotected health care workers are susceptible to infection because of their close contact with patients during treatment.

9. Ebola has been confirmed in the following countries in 2014 (cases listed include confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola as of October 23, 2014 (World Health Organization and CDC): Guinea - 1553 cases, 926 deaths, Liberia - 4665 cases, 2705 deaths, Mali - 1 case, 1 death (infection originated in Guinea), Nigeria - 20 cases, 8 deaths, Senegal - 1 case, 0 deaths (infection originated in Guinea), Sierra Leone - 3896 cases, 1281 deaths, Spain - 1 case, 0 deaths, United States - 4 cases, 1 death ( two infections originated in the United States, one in Liberia and one in Guinea).

10. According to the World Health Organization, “there is no specific treatment or vaccine,” and the fatality rate can be up to 90%. Patients are given supportive care, which includes providing fluids and electrolytes and food.

So you know a little more about ebola. What now?

Step 2: Go! (If you can)

If you’re a medical practitioner, who feels led to give practical help, please find out what your approved government approach is to medical assistance and travelling to the region to volunteer. Given the strict enforcement of adequate protection gear, the chances of getting infected are low, however, please note that scores of African and international doctors and nurses—many of them with experience treating Ebola—have experienced delays getting to affected regions because of flight bans and travel restrictions.

The delays illustrate the difficulties facing an African continent torn between the desire to help and the fear of the virus spreading across porous borders into countries with health systems as weak as those already battling an epidemic.

Senegal, Ivory Coast, Chad, South Africa, Cameroon, Cape Verde and Kenya have all have either closed borders or issued restrictions on travelers arriving from affected countries. Connections between East Africa and West Africa have become particularly difficult because Kenya—a major regional hub—blocked flights to or from the affected countries. Currently, the only countries with flights to Liberia, for example, are Morocco and Belgium.

In many African countries, the restrictions on flights and travellers reflect an acknowledgment of weak health care systems that could easily be overrun by Ebola. Despite waning to be on the ground, travel might be a tad restricted. So what if you can’t physically join the fight against ebola?

Step  3: Give

Unlike most who can travel, there are thousands who have, and together with the local medical volunteers (superheroes if they were ever any), they need our support. Financially.

Funds given to the right organisations on the ground will ensure that they have the resources they need to stop the outbreak. They need medical supplies to care for those already infected, protective equipment to keep health workers safe, and educational campaigns to inform the public about Ebola and how it spreads. It’s these organisations, that are deeply-rooted in local communities, that are in the best position to provide long-term support for the victims. By funding the relief efforts of local organisations, your donations have the potential to build stronger disaster-response capacity so that these communities are better equipped to face future disasters.

US Agency for International Development has put together a list of 37 non-governmental organisations that are working on the Ebola crisis, with direct links for how to donate to them online (or via snail mail). Some organisations on the list are more obvious players in a health crisis, like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross.

What’s more, because this crisis is affecting some of the poorest countries on Earth (which have also been recently affected by Ebola-related quarantines and air-flight cancelations), food access is also expected to play a major role. That’s why organisations like the World Food Program are on the list, too.

Make sure to give to organisations that promise to post or send you reports about how funds have been used.

Step 4: Pray

Compassion is a key reaction towards the victims of ebola, however empathy is even better.  An empathy that’s outworked in prayer or thoughtful focus, in your hearts and minds for healing and restoration for the victims, families, communities and entire nations gripped by ebola.  Now, I’m not advocating that you do it in a particular fashion. Be you Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, taking time each day to remember the souls of our fellow brothers and sisters in Liberia is one of the best forms of solidarity we can express.

Step 5: Share

Share this post with friends and family so they’re not in the dark about the truth of the disease. Also join us daily on Twitter as we follow the disease and collectively fight it, near and far. Our twitter handle is @afritorial. Hashtag – #unitetofightebola.



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