Ebola death toll: are we doing enough?

Since March this year, over 3500 people in western Africa have been affected by the Ebola virus, with over 1,800 people suffering fatalities. The virus, which is contagious, has affected the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone in this most recent outbreak.

Discovered in 1976, the causes for Ebola are not clearly defined, but are said to involve contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids. Amongst humans, the disease is spread by bodily fluids and secretions – and because there is no vaccine, measures must be taken to slow contagion.

What more can we do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), £360m is the very least needed to combat the current outbreak. They have warned that up to 20,000 people could be infected before the virus is brought under control.

Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF), the international medical aid group, has stated that the global response to the crisis has been inadequate and that military intervention is necessary in the fight against Ebola. MSF believe that the only way to bring the outbreak under control is for military and civilian teams capable of dealing with a biological disaster to be immediately deployed.

These calls have been heeded by the French, who have sent 20 experts to the infected area – the UK must follow suit.  Although the foreign office has already donated well over £3m to the relief effort, more expertise and personnel is needed in the region.

Will there ever be a cure?

Ebola outbreaks have been sporadically appearing across Africa for over 35 years, yet the search for a vaccine is still ongoing. New medical research has uncovered possible ideas for trials, but there is no answer yet.

How can we stop the death toll?

If Western powers join together to provided financial aid and personnel then the death toll will slowly decrease. As the disease is not spread by regular everyday contact (such as shaking hands), in theory it is relatively simple to slow the transmission of the disease. This has not proved to be the case, primarily because the people in the region are afraid and do not know the correct preventative measures. These residents should be educated in how to stop the spread of the disease.

World superpowers should be investing their resources in Western Africa, because there is no telling how far the virus could spread. The region needs to be able to both treat and educate its people, and they cannot do it on their own.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.