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Ebola burns through West Africa with previously unheard of casualty numbers

To follow the Ebola crisis in West Africa to hear one piece of bad news after the next. Currently the epidemic seems to be unstoppable. Even with this week’s announcement of forthcoming U.S. Military assistance, the situation continues to degenerate.

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Sunny Ntayombya, a journalist reporting for Radio Netherlands Worldwide, believes that it is the infrastructure building frenzy that has allowed Ebola to spread farther and faster than it ever has before. The greater connectivity of villages to cities via newly constructed roads has had the unexpected consequence of escorting viruses along with people. It’s not just roads and airports either. Last month the first Nissans made in Nigeria rolled off the line in Lagos in an attempt to break the stranglehold import markets had on automobiles there and make car ownership more affordable for the average Nigerian householder.

Greater and faster freedom of movement for individuals means the potential for greater and faster spread of deadly diseases like Ebola. The car and car part market in Nigeria is not very comparable to the North American or European market, says Uzoma Iwuagwu, whose U.S. firm, ZZPerformance, manufactures auto parts. But while fewer Nigerians – and Africans throughout the continent – drive and rely on cars, the addition of just one car to a small village can have a very large effect on the interaction of that village with its larger geographical area.

When that interaction involves the spread of an incurable disease with a very high mortality rate, things become more complicated. How do you attempt to quarantine very frightened villagers who do not fully understand how Ebola is transmitted but suspect that to remain in their villages with Ebola means, for most, death?

On August 17, Liberian villagers, convinced they were being lied to by the authorities, stormed an Ebola clinic, destroyed it, and made off with bloodstained sheets and mattresses.  At that time 413 people in Liberia had died from Ebola. By September 5, that number had risen to 1,089, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Sadly, while African infrastructure appears to have aided the spread of disease, it will not be able to handle the treatment or containment of it. There are not nearly enough health clinics or hospitals, and not enough beds in those. Only 18 percent of patients with Ebola in Liberia are getting care in medical facilities, the rest are being cared for at home. Also, health workers have been hit hard by Ebola. While the United States Military will be sending a mission to build health care facilities for the sick and train health workers to care for them, the military will not be staffing these facilities, and no one is sure exactly who will. It isn’t helping that health workers and educators are being attacked, abducted, and/or killed by frightened and outraged West Africans.

Some current estimates for Liberia and Sierra Leone have 1.4 million people suffering (or succumbing to) Ebola by January.