Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976, and although its origins are unknown, bats are considered the likely host. One of the world’s most deadly diseases, Ebola has a mortality rate of between 25 and 90 per cent. While Ebola is a fragile virus that can be easily killed with heat, bleach, chlorine and even soap, it is easily transmitted through close contact – leading to rapidly growing outbreaks that are difficult to contain.

 

Outbreak in West Africa

The largest outbreak of Ebola in history was officially declared on 22 March 2014 in Guinea. It claimed more than 11,300 lives in six affected countries in West Africa (GuineaLiberiaMaliNigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone), including over 500 healthcare staff – more than all previous outbreaks combined. Earlier outbreaks of Ebola occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, but the outbreak that began in 2014 included major urban areas as well, making contact tracing and control of transmission more difficult. The outbreak and its impact were exacerbated by high mobility of the population, weak health systems and lack of infrastructure and human resources in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three worst-affected countries.

On January 14, 2016, Liberia celebrated 42 days without any new Ebola infections, effectively marking the end of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The outbreak officially ended in June 2016.

The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) now calls on the global health community to draw on lessons learned in order to be better prepared for future similar outbreaks. MSF is continuing its Ebola activities in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by running support clinics for Ebola survivors.

 

 

The MSF response

MSF has intervened in almost all reported Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but until 2014 these were usually geographically contained and involved more remote locations. From the very beginning of the recent Ebola epidemic, MSF responded in the worst affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – by setting up Ebola management centres and providing services such as psychological support, health promotion, surveillance and contact tracing. At its peak, MSF employed nearly 4,000 national staff and over 325 international staff to combat the epidemic across the three countries. MSF admitted a total of 10,376 patients to its Ebola management centres, of which 5,226 were confirmed Ebola cases. In total, the organization spent over 96 million euros on tackling the epidemic.

Those who survived Ebola often found the battle was not over. Many faced significant medical and mental health problems such as joint pain, chronic fatigue, and hearing and vision problems. They also suffered from stigmatisation in their communities and required specific and tailored care. MSF set up dedicated survivors’ clinics in the three worst-affected countries. 

 

Interactive Guide to an Ebola High Risk Zone: How do MSF's Ebola treatment centres work?

 

 

Ebola facts

Transmission: 

The Ebola virus is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals; human-to-human transmission occurs through direct contact with blood, bodily secretions, organs and sick people.

Signs and symptoms: 

Sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases both internal and external bleeding.

Diagnosis: 

On clinical basis, Ebola can be difficult to distinguish from a number of other infectious diseases; confirmation can be made using a number of different laboratory tests.

Treatment: 

There are no proven treatments or licensed vaccines for Ebola; however two vaccines are undergoing human safety studies.

Prevention and control: 

Outbreak control requires a package of interventions, including case management, surveillance and contact tracing, laboratory services, safe burials and social mobilization.

 

 

Ebola: One confirmed case and others being investigated in the Democratic Republic of Congo

One case of Ebola has been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Likati health zone of Bas Uele Province in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A total of nine cases, including three deaths are so far being investigated.

 

 

The Aftermath of Ebola

The transmission of Ebola from the big outbreak which affected more than 28,000 people in West Africa is over. However there is plenty of long-term impact felt in each of the three countries, from economic impact, to schools closing, to medical schools closing for an extended period of time. MSF was one of the biggest actors in the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in all three countries. 

 

Pushed to the Limit and Beyond: MSF on the global response to the Ebola outbreak 

In March 2015, MSF released a critical analysis of the Ebola epidemic over the previous year, revealing the shortcomings of the global response to the crisis and warning that the outbreak, despite an overall decline in cases, is not yet over. 

 

 

Ebola: A Q&A about a promising new Canadian-made vaccine, and MSF's role in the clinical trial

An interim review published today in the medical journal The Lancet indicates very promising results for an Ebola vaccine candidate designed by scientists working at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. 

Dr. Bertrand Draguez, who has been spearheading the MSF platform on experimental tools for Ebola, tells us what that means for the fight against the disease.

 

 

How MSF treats Ebola patients: medical protocols

Follow the link below to read a Q&A with MSF public health specialist Dr. Armand Sprecher, who describes the clinical protocols MSF has used and adapted during its response to the West African Ebola outbreak:

 

 

Eyewitness: Ebola

Reine Lebel, a Canadian psychologist, talks about her work with Ebola patients. 

 

The Boy Who Tricked Ebola

Mamadee is an eleven-year-old patient in Liberia who survived Ebola