Much has been said of and debated about this deadly virus, both realistically and mystically. It is on record that some Africans don’t actually believe the disease itself exists, and certain healthcare workers in Liberia have been pelted with stones as people believe they brought the epidemic to them. Not to mention the other theory that it is actually a bioterrorism weapon used for certain purposes by certain world super powers; but that’s another story. The main factor is: It kills and it does so rapidly, in no time, and close to some 40 years since its first incidence no proper vaccine or treatment protocol has been put forward to counter future threats.

It doesn’t really seem that lack of an Ebola vaccine is simply due to lack of ingenuity or scientific capability in this 21st century. No, the drugs are just stuck in the lab because it is an African disease, and thus borders on the pharma-economics of the drug market itself. Put it this way, no drug industry giant is going to pour dollars, lots of dollars, into the research of a certain zoonotic African disease that erupts once a while and affects the poorest of the world population. There is certainly no return in that, and the ‘Pharma-Industry’ certainly revolves only around money. Drugs are not made to treat the poor, and the unfortunate victims of Ebola have been the poorest.

More than 60 health workers have died since the latest outbreak and unfortunately all have been African nationals, as their counter-colleagues from developed nations who tested positive for the same virus were flown across the Atlantic and treated to a drug that was hitherto unknown to the world, but appeared providentially in their time of need and appears to do just the right thing. We Africans are yet again left to lament, but it’s really time to take a stand. It is indeed an African disease and we need to learn how to solve our problems and fast. It is worth noting that conditions like baldness and erectile dysfunction have received more funding than our killer-tropical disease. One may ask of the about 29 African billionaires – of which four are from Nigeria – where they are lurking while this virus ravages their fellow Africans. Is return on investment a greater priority than the lives of those lost and of those that will be lost? Where is the humanity?

A patient drinks to rehydrate himself under the scrutiny of a nurse at the MSF Treatment Centre in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. Photo: Sylvain Cheraoui/Cosmos for MSF
A patient drinks to rehydrate himself under the scrutiny of a nurse at the MSF Treatment Centre in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. Photo: Sylvain Cheraoui/Cosmos for MSF

We may not have the scientific know-how of the west, not be as wealthy, but it is clear we cannot just sit-tight with folded arms waiting for a vaccine or a drug from the so called ‘World-Powers’ when we can do something to curb this menace on our own.

The health-care sector in the whole of the West-African sub region is dilapidated. Basic equipment and tools to help curb the spread of the disease and quarantine the unfortunate are unfortunately lacking all through the region. However, convalescent therapy has been shown to work, and that we can do ourselves.

Convalescent therapy involves receiving a blood transfusion using the blood of an Ebola survivor, after screening for HIV, typhus and other infections, and the blood incubated at high temperatures to kill other harmful organisms. This method has been used since the first outbreak of Ebola in 1976, has recently been used to successfully treat an American aid worker, and is currently being used to treat an American journalist. Despite the technicalities it involves, it is one of the only possible curative measures that is practicable and available in our environment. And despite the risks, it does seem more adventurous than constant rehydration with electrolytes as is the case now, after all patients are in hemorrhagic shock so what else could be worse. Isn’t it better to try all possible curative avenues than just rehydrating patients till the inevitable occurs? Yet at what point do we go for broke? At what point do we realize we are losing too many and decide to risk everything to achieve the goal of saving lives?