The epidemic of Ebola Virus Disease in Africa continues to spiral out of control. As health professionals we owe it to our communities to contribute to halting this outbreak. Doing so will require courage – the courage to confront the paranoia that characterized similar disease outbreaks in the past, notably the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Tackling the epidemic also requires the ability to look beyond fear and prejudice, to act in accordance with the dictates of reason and sound science, and to resist knee-jerk reactions to media hype. We know the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this epidemic – the cause of Ebola Virus Disease, how it is transmitted, and the sociocultural, environmental and resource constraints that created the ideal milieu for it to emerge and spread in West Africa. Not responding effectively to this epidemic imperils all of us. So where do we begin and what actions should we prioritize?
First, confront paranoia and distrust by ensuring the dissemination of accurate, simple, and readily comprehensible information about Ebola prevention in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner. Second, quickly deploy financial, material and human resources that are critical to effectively tackling the epidemic. Third, provide health workers with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves. Fourth, accelerate the development of vaccines, arguably the most promising approach to preventing future outbreaks. This epidemic may be our opportunity to strengthen the fragile public health systems that may turn out to be our first line of defense against another deadly emerging pathogen.
Muktar Aliyu is the Associate Director for research at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH) and an Associate Professor of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUMC).