By DECLAN PETERSON, age 12, and IndyKids Staff
Thousands of West Africans have died from Ebola since the an outbreak began in March 2014. Ebola is a rare disease that is primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa, where the first recorded outbreak occurred in 1976. Patient zero, or the first person of the current outbreak to contract Ebola, was a two-year-old boy in a village in Guinea in December, 2013.
Since then, the disease has spread to neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood and spit, so it is often the people taking care of individuals with the illness who contract it.
On August 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” As of October 20, the official death toll from the outbreak was more than 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa. According to the WHO, this is the worst ebola epidemic on record, as “there have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined.” According to the WHO, the present epidemic has a mortality rate of 70 percent.
One of the questions that some people ask is, if this outbreak was in the United States, would we have already found an approved vaccine or cure? In an interview with Mitchell L. Cohen, retired director of the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases, he said, “I don’t think it’s an issue of whether scientists and researchers would be working harder.”
Some critics blame economic motivations for the lack of vaccine development. Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, told Scientific American that they are making progress, “but the incentive on the part of the pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine that treats little outbreaks every thirty or forty years — well, that’s not much incentive.”
Dr. Paul Farmer, who has focused his life’s work on improving healthcare in developing nations believes that global economic inequality is largely to blame for the current epidemic: “This isn’t a natural disaster. This is the terrorism of poverty.”
Epidemic: an infectious disease epidemic that has spread widely throughout a region
Mortality rate: the percentage of people diagnosed with the same disease that will die from that disease. Past ebola epidemics have been more or less deadly than the current outbreak, with mortality rates ranging between 25 and 90 percent.