Contributed by Allison Weis
Two years ago, beginning in March 2014, the world saw the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. The outbreak was massive, all countries affected combined 28,646 people were infected and of those 11,323 people were killed by the virus (WHO). During the time of the initial outbreak the world was terrified. Not only did we not have a vaccine, we also didn’t have a good treatment. Ebola is one of those rare viruses that is incredibly deathly – about half of the infected die and the deaths seem virtually unstoppable. The countries most affected were all in West Africa: Sierra Leone (3,956 deaths), Liberia (4,809 deaths) and Guinea (2,543 deaths). Mali and Nigeria were also somewhat affected with 6 deaths in Mali and 8 in Nigeria (WHO).
In March, 2016, a full two years after the global crisis, the WHO director general announced an end to the public health crisis. Since the control of the initial outbreak, there were still a number of flare-ups during 2015. For example, in Liberia there was 1 case and 192 contacts in March 2015, which was likely due to sexual transmission of the virus (CDC) and 3 cases in November 2015. Sierra Leone had 6 cases and 840 contacts in August 2015, which shrunk to 1 case by that September. By March 2016, by which the outbreak was established as no longer a health crisis, there were combined 13 cases in Guinea and Liberia and 1200 contacts- sexual transmission being the suspected means of infection.
On the vaccine development front, a lot of progress has been made. Prior to the outbreak, there was no vaccine and only a few labs in the world were even working on Ebola. Now, we have developed a protective vaccine that is in its first stages of distribution and we have stockpiled an emergency supply. As of December 2016, the new Ebola vaccine gave 100% protection – and truly remarkable advancement in a very short time. Thanks to Congress and the Obama administration for the emergency funding, scientists and health professionals have been able to work with unlimited resources to develop, try (all through the trials) and are now beginning to implement the vaccine in the most affected areas (CDC; WHO; NYT). If a new outbreak were to flare, the world is now in a much better position to counter the virus.