West Africa’s Ebola outbreak is now the largest ever recorded, and with no known cure or vaccine, officials are shifting their strategy toward containment.
South Africa closed its borders to certain travelers Thursday and is the first African country that doesn’t border the infection zone to impose Ebola-related travel restrictions.
The countries hardest hit are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In those three countries, more than 1,300 people have been killed and at least 2,400 people are believed to have been infected.
Neighboring Senegal completely shut its border with Guinea on Thursday, in addition to banning air and sea travel to and from all three countries. Guinea deployed medical officers to its borders to evaluate the health of travelers.
But Liberia may have taken the most dramatic step in trying to control the virus. Just outside the capital, Monrovia, the neighborhood of West Point was quarantined Wednesday, with no advance warning for its residents. Now no one is allowed in, and no one is allowed out, resulting in desperate food shortages and widespread panic.
Strained health care systems and poor national infrastructures are contributing to Ebola’s rapid spread. The virus can be transmitted only through contact with bodily fluids like blood, sweat and saliva. For infected people, the fatality rate can be as high as 90 percent.
A lack of trust among medical teams, local officials and the public may be making things even worse. For many people in the U.S. and West Africa alike, Ebola provokes fear but remains little understood.
What began as a public health issue is now also a political one, making it that much harder to solve.
How can a place like Monrovia handle a public health emergency of this magnitude?
What can a quarantine introduce into an already complicated equation?