An Ebola hemorrhagic fever epidemic, the most serious of its kind ever known, hit Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2013 to 2016. The response from the international community was considered insufficient and too slow. As of February 2015, the WHO reported 9,604 deaths and more than 23,500 cases of infection.
The characteristics of an unprecedented epidemic
The outbreak is the most extensive and longest in history, with its epicenter cutting across several countries and affecting both rural and urban areas. The spread of the disease was exacerbated by several factors:
The affected countries were already weakened by coups, civil wars, cycles of profound political instability and poor economic policies;
Dysfunctional healthcare systems that lack human and material resources;
Distrust of government and health authorities, and international NGOs;
A lack of information, fear in the face of an unknown disease and denial of the existence of the virus;
The stigmatization and isolation of those affected. People needed to give up direct physical contact and traditional funeral rites.
A health and social disaster
Beyond the health aspects related to infections and deaths, the Ebola virus, because of its mode of transmission, disrupted and paralyzed social interactions, social networks, family solidarity, and the practices, beliefs and social rituals that link people together.
Medical monitoring for chronic diseases was halted, as were treatments for tropical diseases and the monitoring of pregnancies. In addition, children were no longer receiving vaccinations. The production and distribution of goods, as well as ground transportation, were completely paralyzed, having an effect on food security and livelihoods.
On January 14, 2016, the World Health Organization officially announced the end of the Ebola epidemic, when transmission of the disease ended in Liberia, and the country was declared as the last to have eradicated the virus. The epidemic caused more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa.