Uganda announces lockdown as Ebola cases rise. (Photo: Reuters: James A Carree)
When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a high-level emergency for the Ebola virus disease that first emerged in March 2014 in Guinea, it was an indication of how quickly a deadly disease was spreading around the world.
After a surge of cases in several African countries, the virus was declared to have spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, at least 29 people have died from the Ebola virus, with the number expected to rise dramatically as the virus spreads from Liberia across all four countries.
At the time, a WHO official suggested that the virus could eventually spread to the United States, which shares a border with Liberia and Sierra Leone, because of the frequent travel that occurs between the two countries.
As of mid-April 2015, there were nearly 700 confirmed cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone alone and several hundred cases across Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. There is no cure for the virus but two drugs – ZMapp, an experimental cocktail of antibodies, and Mapp, another combination of drugs.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s State of the Nation series, Dr. Kavitha Rangan, a specialist on infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said that there are a number of factors that could create a domino effect. These include a lack of treatment for existing cases, a failure of quarantine when cases are diagnosed in countries like Liberia, which could spread the virus from the affected region to other regions, and the possibility of virus-carrying bats going back and forth between the affected African countries.
“When the epidemic broke in March 2014, there was no treatment for Ebola,” she told Al Jazeera. “And because there’s no treatment, the virus has spread through the community, as there is no quarantine, and it is going back and forth, and it has been going back and forth in the same way between the three affected countries.”
With the WHO declaring an epidemic, public health officials in the WHO began issuing travel bans to four countries, including the United States. The U.S. State Department said that it was working with other governments to reduce human travel and that the U.