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Ebola

For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, there is a $4.3 return in costs.

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For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, there is a $4.3 return in costs.

The battle against Ebola rages on  in parts of West Africa, and the world remains transfixed by the deadly virus. Yet with all the attention focused on Ebola, more common — and preventable — diseases such as sepsis and diarrhea, which are often caused by lack of access to potable water, continue to destroy lives by the thousands around the world. Those who are hit the hardest? Pregnant women and children. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhea kills 760,000 children under the age of five each year globally. A recent article in The Telegraph highlights how the shortage of clean water in Tanzania has forced clinics to make use of contaminated water dug up from riverbeds. When, for example, Aisha Mkude went into labor with her fourth child, her first son, relatives had to bring water in cans to the clinic. The water was used to wash Aisha and her newborn, plus her clothes and the  bedsheets. Her baby died just one week later from an umbilical cord infection, most likely contracted from the contaminated water. This is just one case of many:. It’s reported that a mere 44% of delivery facilities in Tanzania have access to clean water. As the article states, for every 1,000 children born in Tanzania, 21 die in the first month of life, or 39,000 per year. Most of these deaths can be attributed to sepsis, diarrhea, and infection. 

“Not all of the sick have Ebola,” says Dr. Fallah, “It’s a complex paradox. On the one hand, you’re trying to stay alive in an epidemic. On the other hand, my fear is that we’re going to see a great increase in deaths from common, preventable diseases.”

Dr. Fallah, who studied public health and epidemiology at Harvard, grew up in West Point, a township of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. West Point is home to 75,000 people. But there are four public toilets. People are forced to defecate on the beach.

This is a lesson for all of us. For every dollar we invest in water and sanitation, we save  $4.3 in healthcare costs. According to Dr. Fallah, the Ebola epidemic could have been extinguished months ago if we had focused resources on preventing the spread of the disease. “Not until an American doctor became infected—not until it became an international threat—did they mount an effective response,” he says. “If we had invested one-tenth of what we’re investing now back in July, when there were just a few hundred cases, this epidemic could have been stopped.”  

The people of West Point, along with 2.5 billion other people around the world, don’t have access to basic sanitation. Ebola is not the only disease prone to explosive outbreak. More than 3.4 million people die each year from contaminated water and hygiene-related complications. 

How do we stop waterborne illness and deadly epidemics such as Ebola? Part of the answer lies in communication and tracing the sources of disease. Dr. Fallah is working with the CDC to collect data and GPS information to map the travel and transmission of disease. Hot spots are constantly moving, and doctors need to be able to locate those hot spots and determine what those people need in real time. As for Ebola, Dr. Fallah has hope: , “If we can find 100 percent of the contacts, we can break the transmission.”

To read more about Dr. Fallah, check out this article from the Harvard School of Public Health.

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How can nations hit by Ebola avoid food security crises?

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How can nations hit by Ebola avoid food security crises?

The Food and Agriculture Organization has devised a plan to attempt to fend off this looming disaster

Food security has been a pressing issue in many parts of Africa for decades. But the recent outbreak of Ebola in northern Africa along with the changing climate and increased subsidies from the EU have stretched many countries to their limits. As the countries hardest hit by Ebola, namely Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea are some of the poorest in the world, this has stretched their already tight budgets and put them in an even greater bind. While the Green Morocco Plan in conjunction with the later developed National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development provide an ideal example of what countries struggling with food security and climate change can do in the long term, the fragile state of the countries still battling Ebola require an immediate emergency response to food shortage, especially as this season’s crop harvest has just begun. With expected major labor shortages and a severely threatened cash crop production, what is being done in response to this desperate need for help? 

The Food and Agriculture Organization recently published a strategy to combat the potential crisis through their Regional Response Program with an estimated 12 month time span based on four main pillars:

1. Save lives by stopping the spread of disease.

2. Boost incomes and agricultural production to safeguard livelihoods.

3. Build resilience of communities to disease threats.

4. Strengthen coordination for improved response.

With an expected budget of $30 million, the FAO expects to help nearly 90,000 of the most affected farming households. Click here to read more on the Regional Response Program. The issue of food security in the countries most affected by Ebola provides proof that the effects of this disease leaves almost no one and nothing untouched. From labor shortages, to migration and movement restrictions, it seems that everything that could go awry, has. To read more on the widespread effects of this dangerous virus and the likely vicious poverty cycle it has caused, click here.

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Ebola 2014

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Ebola 2014

As the death toll tops 1,000 people, certain questions about the Ebola virus outbreak begin to arise: What exactly is Ebola? How is it contracted? How does it compare to past outbreaks? What can be done to prevent further spread of the deadly virus?

Close tabs are being kept on the status of the recent Ebola outbreak in Central and West Africa and it seems there is a new article posted on the subject every couple of hours. As of today, the death toll has risen to roughly 1,000 people while the number of infected cases nears 2,000. The outbreak originated in Guinea, but has spread to numerous neighboring countries including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Liberia. In the past week, the World Health Organization has declared that it would be ethical to offer unproven Ebola vaccines and medicines as the outbreak has become so severe. To read more on the most recent updates and what countries like Canada are doing to help, click here.

So what exactly is the Ebola virus and how does one contract it? The short answer is that it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is spread from animal to human through close contact. The host is thought to be the fruit bat, a very common species in Central and West Africa. The long answer can be read and examined by clicking on one or both of the following links:

WHO: Ebola virus disease

The Ebola Outbreak: ‘A Dress Rehearsal For The Next Big One’

Finally, how does this outbreak compare to outbreaks in the past? It is easy to see that the 2014 Ebola outbreak has the highest death toll of any outbreak in recorded history, however it is not the most fatal. Why so? To read more on this comparison as well as others, click here.

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