The world has finally received some long-awaited good news on the fight against Ebola. According to a UN report, two of the three countries at the epicentre of the disease, Guinea and Liberia, are documenting decreasing infection rates. At last, some headway on reversing the course of the virus.
It must come as a relief to genuinely concerned human beings that the potential new cases of over a million by the New Year, as originally estimated by the CDC, now seem to be grossly inaccurate. It would appear that disease forecasting models are, as yet, too primitive to take human ingenuity and ability for self-preservation into adequate consideration; that people will obviously take whatever measures they can to protect themselves once they understand and accept what they’re dealing with. Current numbers of confirmed, probable and suspected cases are at 14,413 according to the UN, with an estimated survival rate of 50 % at the epicentres. Treatment methods still seem to be simply quarantine and support, and only where sufficient isolation wards exist.
Outside of West Africa, a third crucial treatment strategy has been more rigorously applied – blood from Ebola survivors. The latter treatment was successfully used in the case of three nurses – two in the United States, one in Spain – who were inadvertently infected when treating Ebola patients in a supposedly infection-proof environment.
The media would have us believe that the survival of these nurses was due to early, “high quality” treatment, in “elite” and “sophisticated” facilities, ostensibly forgetting the failures in the treatment of America’s patient zero, who died, and the seemingly multiple breaches that led to the infection of the nurses in the first place. Less rabidly announced, is that all of the so-called high-quality, successful treatments had one thing in common – the use of blood from cured Ebola patients.
Known as convalescent sera, it stems from the understanding that infectious diseases are fought off by the creation of specific antibodies; antibodies that can be transferred from the cured to the infected via blood transfusion. It had been used to a limited extent in earlier Ebola outbreaks, but may have fallen out of favour when human-designed animal models failed.
However, calls have resumed for the use of convalescent sera. Given the relative ease of administration, the number of potential donors, some evidence of efficacy in humans, and, importantly, the complete lack of any other safe and proven treatment alternatives, calls have resumed.
But with this hopeful development, almost immediately came rumours of blood black markets in the epicenters, eagerly reported on by the media, even while others claim that West Africans are superstitious about donating blood.
In this unfortunate environment of negativity and bias, it is hoped that neither conflicting interests, bureaucracy, unfounded assumptions nor dependency on foreign medical aid and direction derails this important step forwards.