Ebola Continuing To Ravage Nations In West Africa

As the United States deals with its first case of Ebola, the disease continues to ravage western Africa:

As the Ebola epidemic intensifies across parts of West Africa, nations and aid agencies are pledging to respond with increasing force. But the disease has already raced far ahead of the promises, sweeping into areas that had been largely spared the onslaught and are not in the least prepared for it.

The consequences in places like Makeni, one of Sierra Leone’s largest cities, have been devastating.

“The whole country has been hit by something for which it was not ready,” said Dr. Amara Jambai, director of prevention and control at Sierra Leone’s health ministry.

Bombali, the district that includes this city, went from one confirmed case on Aug. 15 to more than 190 this weekend, with dozens more suspected. In a sign of how quickly the disease has spread, at least six dozen new cases have been confirmed in the district in the past few days alone, health officials said. The government put this district, 120 miles northeast of the capital, Freetown, under quarantine late last week, making official what was already established on the ground. Ebola patients are dying under trees at holding centers or in foul-smelling hospital wards surrounded by pools of infectious waste, cared for as best they can by lightly trained and minimally protected nurses, some wearing merely bluejeans.

“There’s no training for the staff here,” said Dr. Mohammed Bah, the director of the government hospital here. “The training is just PowerPoint. It is very difficult to manage Ebola here.”

In recent weeks, the world has vowed to step up its response to the epidemic, which has been spreading for more than six months. The United States has sent a military team to neighboring Liberia with plans to build 18 treatment centers to prop up the broken health system. The British have promised to build field hospitals in four urban areas in Sierra Leone, including this one. The French are setting up a treatment center and a laboratory in Guinea. The Chinese have sent scores of medical personnel to the region and have converted a hospital they built outside Freetown into a holding center for Ebola patients. The Cubans have pledged to send more than 400 doctors to help battle the disease in the region.

But little of that help has reached this city. The dead, the gravely ill, those who are vomiting or have diarrhea, are placed among patients who have not yet been confirmed as Ebola victims — there is not even a laboratory here to test them. At one of the three holding centers in Makeni, dazed Ebola patients linger outside, close to health workers and soldiers guarding them. The risk of infection is high, the precautions minimal. Patients are kept at the holding centers, receiving a minimum of care, until space opens up at a distant treatment center.

There’s more at the link, but what it makes clear is that these nations are ill prepared to deal with the disease even at its current outbreak level, and would likely be overwhelmed even more if the outbreak expands as some estimates have predicted. The United States and other nations are sending help that is mainly focused on building hospitals closer to where the outbreaks are so that patients don’t need to be transported further, thus raising the risk of the epidemic spreading.  Whether that will be enough to help start to stem the tide of infection is unclear, but what is clear is that even if this ends relatively soon many of these nations are going to be feeling the impact well into the future.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Health, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Well, it’s a good thing that so many red states have been successful at keeping poor people from getting health insurance, or else we would have to start worrying.

    Oh, wait…

  2. sam says:

    This virus kills through compassion and love, because it attacks those who care for the sick, and they in turn become sick. Seventy percent of those infected are women who have cared for a sick family member. The very best parts of us are no proof against a universe that cares not a whit for us.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Ebola is a horrible scourge but perhaps we should spend more time and resources addressing global climate change that is going to result in billions of people being displaced and starving to death.

  4. aFloridian says:

    @Ron Beasley: There’s plenty of resources and ability to do both if we’d get our thumbs out our butts. And I’m pretty sure if we were in West Africa right now watching the bodies piling up we’d want to the indifferent Western World to wake up and help their fellow humans, even if they are black and African – which always seems to be the big difference in the world’s interest.

    Ebola only got interesting for most Americans when they started flying the white folks home for special treatment.

    What I don’t get is – if it is so hard to get, like they keep telling us, how did our Liberian friend, American Patient Zero in Dallas, apparently contract it from helping a woman into a taxi? I mean, was it in her sweat and it traveled through HIS pores, his mouth, a cut? I don’t really understand the ease of transmission is I guess what I’m saying.

  5. Stonetools says:

    This is where conservatives suddenly discover that Big Gumint agencies like the CDC and the NIH are actually pretty useful.
    You would think now would be a good time to have a Surgeon General in place to deal with the developing Ebola threat, but those morons at the NRA are blocking the appointment of the Surgeon General because he favors funding scientific studies of gun violence.
    We could do a better job both of controlling diseases and climate change, but the GOP exists.

  6. JKB says:


    This virus is skin transmissible. No need for mucus membrane contact or even a cut.

    We also don’t know how long it can live dehydrated on a surface. As it gets to more urban settings, there will be more protected surfaces for it to lay upon and wait for a sweaty palm.

  7. JKB says:


    Well, maybe with this Ebola crisis, Obama should nominate someone with more interest in contagious disease and virology? Perhaps someone who doesn’t chase the latest Progressive fad or try to make political questions into “health” issues?

  8. JKB says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Yes, in this time of “crisis” lets spend more time and resources to combat something that hasn’t happened for 18 years. No warming for 18 years. Let that sink in.

  9. Matt says:

    @JKB: Wrong

    Infection occurs from direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood, or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people. Infection can also occur if broken skin or mucous membranes of a healthy person come into contact with environments that have become contaminated with an Ebola patient’s infectious fluids such as soiled clothing, bed linen, or used needles.

    If it was just direct skin contact itself then at least half of sierre leone would be dead already.