Widespread infection with Ebola virus has been reported in West Africa. International cooperation is essential to prevent the expansion of this terrible disease.
The deadly virus has been spreading from Guinea since February. The death toll from the epidemic has topped 900 in Guinea and its two neighboring countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, marking the largest number of victims since the first patient with Ebola virus was confirmed in 1976.
Deaths from the virus have been also confirmed in Nigeria, which does not border any of the other three African countries. A patient with symptoms similar to those of Ebola died in the Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia. The deadly virus is thus threatening to spread across the world.
The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak to be “a public health emergency of international concern” and recommended that countries take measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as strengthening surveillance at airports and issuing travel advisories.
For its part, Japan should steadily take necessary steps and not regard the outbreak as “a fire on the opposite shore.”
Infection with the disease – formally known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever – occurs through contact with blood and other bodily fluids. The fatality rate is extremely high at 50 to 90 percent, as there are no effective treatment methods.
The previous outbreak of the Ebola epidemic occurred mainly in agricultural areas. But this outbreak has reached populous urban areas, threatening to further increase the number of infections. This is a matter of grave concern.
To contain the Ebola outbreak, it is crucial to strictly quarantine infected persons. It is also indispensable to keep area residents fully informed about the fatal disease.
In the three West African countries where mass Ebola infection has been reported, administrative and medical treatment systems remain fragile following the civil wars and coups that have occurred in recent years. There are limits to what these countries can do to deal with the outbreak on their own.
The fact that many doctors and nurses have been infected with the Ebola virus has increased worries about potential infection, thereby making it difficult to secure medical staff. The US government has decided to send an additional 50 medical professionals to West Africa. The decision was apparently made in view of the serious conditions there.
Japan, for its part, must provide financial and other assistance as much as possible.
The Foreign Ministry of Japan has issued information on infection risk in the three West African countries, calling for people to postpone travel to these countries unless essential and urgent. To prevent Ebola infection from reaching Japan, vigilance must not be neglected at borders.
Should domestic infection emerge, the infected persons would be quarantined at a designated medical institution. Procedures for transport and admission of such patients must be verified.
However, there is no special facility available domestically to safely handle viruses with a high fatality rate such as Ebola. If there is no alternative but to ask other counties to conduct an analysis of a pathogen, it is feared that there will be delays in implementing countermeasures.
Protecting people’s lives from deadly infectious diseases is an important crisis-management task for the state. The government must step up efforts to bolster such a system.