The largest ever outbreak of Ebola continues to spread in West Africa, affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. While some might be content to thank their lucky stars that Ebola is just “one of those horrible African diseases”, the more empathetic among us will reel in horror that anyone be subjected to, essentially, the worst death imaginable.
As Laurie Garrett describes it:
… blood pours into the intestines, bowels, and respiratory channels. As the victims become feverish — raging in pain and hallucinations — their tears drip red with blood. The crimson liquid flows from their noses, ears, bowels, bladders, mouths, while old wounds reopen all over their bodies.
When I was still living in Uganda in 2013, there were several Ebola scares. While the virus kills the infected relatively quickly (although surely not quickly enough for its victims) — “from infection to death typically within five days” — that was still long enough for rural victims who were unaware they had the disease to take a bus to Kampala, the capital, in a frantic search for medical care. There, they might find a hospital, but they were nearly as likely to find a lot of people in a very crowded urban space.
Thankfully, Uganda has a good track record of responding to the virus quickly and establishing effective quarantines. The countries of West Africa, however, have none. Ebola has killed over 450 people since February. Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who has won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, gives a brief rundown of how Ebola outbreaks have been managed since the first epidemic in 1976 at Foreign Policy. The #1 lesson, she says, is “Don’t Kiss the Cadaver.”