Over 4,500 dead and counting: Ebola continues to devastate the western African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Amidst the coverage of the crisis, an intriguing blame game has developed with Western nations accusing others of not doing enough to fight the spread of Ebola. Meanwhile, an internal document from the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that WHO should have seen it coming from the beginning and failed to contain the outbreak.
This crisis is now over 10 months old. Here is a timeline of the key events and a month-by-month summary of the crisis as it evolved into the dire situation it is today. Can you pinpoint where it all started to unravel?
A two year old boy is thought to be the first to die from Ebola in the village of Meliandou, Guinea, near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Three members of his family also fall ill with haemorrhagic fever and subsequently die. The disease is thought of as Lassa fever or typhus, diseases more common to the region, as Ebola has not been previously reported in west Africa.
Three months into 2014, a “mystery illness” is reported in Guinea. Samples are sent away for testing and confirm Ebola. Healthcare workers are blamed for spreading the illness and failing to use the appropriate protective equipment.
22nd March Ebola identified as the cause. Sierra Leone officially reports its first cases of Ebola in a town near Guinea.
24th March Ebola is suspected in Liberia as five people die from haemorrhagic fever. Ebolavirus strain is suspected to be a variant of the highly fatal Zaire strain.
The number of fatalities exceeds 100 in west Africa, and Ebola spreads through Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Sierra Leone records its first official deaths due to Ebola.
The number of infected exceeds the 2000-2001 Ugandan Ebola outbreak making this the worst outbreak of Ebola since its discovery in 1976. Victims are reportedly using traditional medicine and healers instead of attending hospitals, contributing to the spread of the disease in the region.
Ebola infects US aid workers Kent Bradley and Nancy Writebol in Liberia. They are evacuated to the US and given experimental vaccines. Both subsequently recover. Religious leaders in the region announce they will help educate church-goers during Sunday services on the dangers and procedures in dealing with Ebola.
1st July 57 suspected Ebola patients go “missing” in Sierra Leone.
Evacuee and Ebola victim Fr Miguel Parajes dies in hospital in Madrid. He is just one of over 1,300 people who have died from the virus since December. Many countries begin to close their borders with the infected nations: Guinea-Bissau shuts its border with neighbouring Guinea; Kenya in east Africa closes its borders to all Ebola-hit countries; Cameroon closes its borders with Nigeria over the small but potentially dangerous Ebola outbreak there; and Ivory Coast closes its borders with Liberia.
In Sierra Leone, 300 deaths from Ebola are traced back to a single tribal healer, demonstrating the negative effect a lack of education on Ebola and its transmission is having in the region. The UN vows to scale up response to Ebola crisis and medical experts deem it “ethical” to use experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines to help curb Ebola spread and treat patients. Experimental vaccines are soon deployed in Liberia.
2nd August First official Ebola death in Nigeria.
8th August Liberian government deploys armed forces to restrict the movement of people in the worse-off regions.
17th August Ebola victims go missing after fleeing a hospital which came under attack by armed men in Liberia. They are found two days later.
21st August Ebola is suspected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a separate outbreak
29th August First case of Ebola reported in Senegal.
30th August Health workers strike over bad pay and conditions in Kenema, Sierra Leone.
The death toll increases to 2,600 (double that of last month) and the outbreak is described as “accelerating”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the number of infected could rise to 1.4 million cases by January 20th in a “worst case scenario”. The Red Cross reports some of its teams have come under attack while clearing bodies and disinfecting areas in Guinea. They report a fear in the region that Ebola does not exist, and that corpses cannot spread disease – a grave misunderstanding if true. Sean Casey from the International Medical Corps says Liberia is “on brink of societal collapse”.
16th September US President Barack Obama pledges troops to help fight Ebola in Liberia
19th September Senegal deemed Ebola-free.
27th September Chief Medical Officer in Liberia, Bernice Dahn, puts herself in quarantine due to her office assistant coming down with Ebola.
30th September First case of Ebola recorded in US. Liberian-American Thomas Duncan Smith is treated in Dallas, Texas but subsequently dies from the disease.
The number of fatalities exceeds 4,500 and the number of infected tops 9,100. In the UK, the Chief of General Staff Sir Nick Carter mulls response options that include sending thousands of soldiers to assist in delivering supplies, build treatment centres, and assist in containing the disease.
6th October Spanish nurse contracts Ebola in Madrid after treating an evacuated priest.
12th October Nurse in Dallas, Texas involved in the treatment of Thomas Duncan Smith is diagnosed with Ebola.
15th October Second health worker in Texas is diagnosed with Ebola. She was diagnosed after boarding aeroplane with over 130 passengers.
Fears of Ebola spreading to the West has accelerated the international response to Ebola, but the initial and current delays in getting aid to where it is needed most is pushing up the cost of containing the disease in west Africa. Other factors including fragile Western economies, famine in South Sudan, and military investment in the Middle East, may be detracting from the response, but one this clear: Ebola is best tackled now, at the source, if time, money, and, most importantly, lives are to be saved.
Edit: Nigeria has been declared Ebola-free (20th October). Can the WHO capitalise on this gain? Or will more outbreaks be seen in the future? My hope is the former rather than the latter, but only time will tell.
*Author note – I used healthmap.org to track reporting of the Ebola outbreak via their excellent timeline feature which follows mentions of “Ebola” in worldwide news articles. The reason so little is mentioned in my timeline regarding April and May of 2014 is simply because very little media coverage was given to the outbreak in these months, compared to later months. One wonders, if as much consideration was given to Ebola in the media then as it is now, would the response have been so lacklustre?