Ebola: The Forgotten Smallpox

by / 0 Comments / 56 View / July 13, 2014

Ebola may be the forgotten smallpox, but unlike Smallpox, Ebola has no cure.

“This morning you woke up feeling a little unwell. You have no appetite, your head is aching, your throat is sore, and you think you might be slightly feverish. You don’t know it yet, but Ebola virus has started to attack your immune system, wiping out [your] t-lymphocyte cells… These are the same cells that AIDS virus (HIV-1) attacks, but Ebola virus kills them far more aggressively,” describes University of Lancaster lecturer Derek Gatherer.

In the seven months since the resurfacing of Ebola virus in Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented a rapid spread to the bordering countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In these areas alone there have been 779 cases of infection and 481 deaths as a result from this deadly disease, and this number is quickly rising. As Ebola has an incubation period between 2 and 21 days, many people who have come in contact with, and contracted the virus, may not even know it and with modern day travel, linking flights from Guinea or Liberia to Europe, the sickness has no boundaries. Gatherer distresses, “Exactly when and where you caught Ebola virus is unclear…What is more certain is that you are now infectious yourself. Your family, friends and anyone in close contact with you are all in mortal danger.”

This West African Ebola epidemic is now the largest since the virus was discovered in 1976 and there are no signs of it letting up now. Symptoms begin to show through fevers, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and sore throats. This develops into vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, failing liver and kidney function, bleeding, and almost always ends in death. Killing nearly 90% of infected patients, Ebola is ranked among the most lethal diseases. If it did manage to slip onto English shores, however, Gatherer says that the National Health Service (NHS) would be able to address the concern and eradicate the virus from the island. This brings to light one of the most pressing reasons behind the rapid pervasion of this noxious illness throughout Western Africa: a poorly equipped healthcare system.

Often, the crux of the health care deficit isn’t due to outdated equipment; the epicenter of the issue lies with medical education. In Sierra-Leon, a high number of under-paid, untrained staff lie at the heart of many lacking treatments. Peripheral health units (PHU) make up the predominant forms of healthcare in Sierra-Leon, but these systems do not hold staff well-informed enough to treat serious illnesses. Anything more complicated than providing pre-natal and natal acre and malaria treatments surpass their technicians’ medical knowledge. Thus, with such a large scale and deadly epidemic as the one seen with Ebola, these countries are left desperately in the dark. In fact, many of the technicians who attempt to treat patients with Ebola have died from contracting the disease itself. In order to rid Western Africa of Ebola, countries with stronger healthcare systems need to step in. Any students wanting to gather donations that will have a serious effect in a short amount of time should consider contributing to the response to the Ebola virus.Médecins sans Frontières, one of the world’s largest, international, medical humanitarian organizations, has already deployed its maximum amount of medical staff and spent its reserved funds trying to quell the outbreak, but this is not enough. If any global health organizations wants to truly contain Ebola virus, they must place it as one of the most foremost issues on their agendas. Though donations are urgently needed at the moment, in the long term, support must also be garnered to strengthen the national healthcare and sanitation systems in West African countries. In the future, it will not be enough to simply donate to these countries. We will need to find a way to create a sustainable infrastructure that supports health education and sanitation in order to prevent future population decimating diseases.


Denney, Lisa. “Ebola cannot be cured but west Africa’s epidemic may have been preventable.” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 July 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/jul/08/ebola-virus-west-africa-cured-preventable-sierra-leone>.

Gatherer, Derek. “What happens to your body when you get Ebola?” The Conversation. The Conversation Trust, n.d. Web. 9 July 2014. <https://theconversation.com/profiles/derek-gatherer-129342/profile_bio>.

Smith, Mikey. “Ebola virus outbreak: Doctors say ‘out of control’ epidemic could soon spread beyond West Africa.” The Mirror. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 July 2014. <http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/ebola-virus-outbreak-doctors-say-3829640>.

Westcott, Lucy. “Reporting 50 New Cases and 25 Dead, WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Won’t Slow Down.” Newsweek. Newsweek, n.d. Web. 9 July 2014. <http://www.newsweek.com/ebola-outbreak-wont-slow-down-50-news-cases-and-25-dead-257907>.