One year ago, Ebola began its rampage across West Africa, killing thousands in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia. After a year of horror, the disease is finally under control. Restrictions are slowly being lifted. Life should be returning to normal. But will life in West Africa ever be "normal" again?
I am in Sierra Leone to visit some of the Ebola treatment centres run by Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in response to the West African epidemic that began just over one year ago. That the Prince of Wales centre in Freetown, and other Ebola centres are closing is a sign case numbers have plummeted from the historic highs seen in the outbreak.
Mosquitoes are re-emerging as a serious North American health threat as carriers of the West Nile Virus. In the developing world, mosquitoes pose an even more menacing danger. There, they transmit malaria, the deadliest disease borne by any insect or animal anywhere. This year, malaria deaths are expected to spike upwards, after more than a decade of steady decline. The reason: Ebola. The fragile health systems in West Africa have been stretched to the limit in the Ebola fight, and routine measures to combat malaria have gone by the wayside.
Ebola has infected nearly 24,000 people and killed almost 10,000, mainly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. However, the impacts of Ebola extend far beyond the borders of the worst-affected countries. G7 Foreign Ministers should champion a rigorous approach to go beyond reducing transmission, to stopping the disease completely, to enabling societies to manage the consequences of the outbreak, and to preventing future outbreaks.
The Canada Border Services Agency works with the Public Health Agency of Canada to ensure infections are kept out of the country, as prescribed by the Quarantine Act. Last year, during the height of the Ebola worry, the Public Health Agency of Canada strengthened its use of the Act to help prevent any importation of the virus. For a public concerned about the introduction or emergence of a particular pathogen such as Ebola, an increased security presence is always welcome.
Today, Ebola continues to hit hardest in Sierra Leone, which reported 337 new cases in the last week of December, more than double those in Guinea and Liberia combined. In Sierra Leone, which already had the world's highest maternal mortality ratio and the fourth highest infant mortality rate, the impact of Ebola on children is huge and under-reported; and orphans remain the forgotten victims of the crisis.
The number of major crises taking place around the globe this past year has been unparalleled in recent history. In fact, 2014 often seemed filled with intractable emergencies that were simply too big, too complex and too daunting to fathom, let alone solve. This felt particularly true when it came to humanitarian action.
These children practiced their performance to express their gratitude to CARE and above all to show us that even in their desperate situation, they have dignity and hope for the future. Handwashing may seem like such a simple act, but for the kids in South Sudan, it can help raise the possibility of many more birthdays to come.
The Ebola epidemic is far from over. At this time children are severely affected both by the disease itself and the other sequelae that tragedies such as infectious disease and war leave behind. These children are in need of not just a biomedical approach to Ebola but a "whole-child" approach that addresses other issues that affect child wellbeing.