You have likely seen the news that West Africa is experiencing the largest outbreak of Ebola ever recorded. To date, there have been more than 1,000 deaths and nearly 2,000 people infected in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. The World Health Organization has recently declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. Forty percent of the total reported cases in this outbreak have been in Sierra Leone, a country where Nothing But Nets has been working to fight malaria.
The toll of the Ebola outbreak is not limited only to those infected with this disease, but is compounded by other perennial threats to health, including malaria. At onset, Ebola and malaria can both cause fever and vomiting. This can complicate an infected person’s actions and a health worker’s response. Fear of contracting Ebola from hospitals and health facilities can discourage care seeking and thus inhibit diagnosis and treatment. The scale of this outbreak also requires health workers to concentrate on containing and treating Ebola patients which may mean that focus will shift away from malaria and other diseases.
Fortunately, we can reduce the risk of such public health crises undermining the progress we have made in malaria elimination by continuously distributing insecticide-treated bed nets and educating at-risk communities on malaria prevention. For example, in Sierra Leone, 3.5 million long-lasting bed nets were distributed in May and June of this year. While it’s possible that malaria cases in Sierra Leone could go undiagnosed and untreated during the Ebola outbreak, many cases will be prevented due to the successes of this distribution campaign.
The bed nets in this campaign were procured by our partners, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UK Government, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Nothing But Nets funded the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to conduct the bed net distribution, go door-to-door to help families hang their nets, and educate them on their proper use.
These same hardworking Red Cross colleagues in Sierra Leone have now turned their attention to raising awareness about how Ebola is transmitted and prevention measures; providing emotional support to those who have lost loved ones; and undertaking the disheartening task of burying the victims of this disease. Now more than ever, it is important that we thank them for all the work they do in malaria prevention and treatment, and salute them for their brave and tireless efforts as they turn to the fight against Ebola. Our thoughts are with them.