Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Dr. Malonga Miatudila remembers how the Ebola virus got its name.
In 1976, he was part of an international team that was sent to the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire) to identify and fight what was to become the first-ever recorded outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease. The team discussed naming the virus Yambuku after the Yambuku Catholic Mission Hospital. To avoid giving the Catholic center and its hospital the stigma of a disease, they ended up naming it after the Ebola River, one of the region’s streams.
Dr. Miatudila spoke about the efforts to control the virus during a visit to Abt Associates’ Bethesda office on September 12, 2014. He was invited by Dr. John Osika, an Abt expert in HIV and other infectious diseases. Dr. Miatudila also spoke at Abt about Ebola disease two years ago.
In recent years researchers have determined that the fruit bat is a primary host for the Ebola virus. Outbreaks begin when humans come into contact with infected fruit bats or other animals that have been infected by the fruit bats. Once the virus infects a human being, it is transmitted primarily by care providers through unprotected close contacts with other humans, through body fluids, such as blood, tears, urine and feces.
“Ebola has two formidable allies – one is hysteria and two is the weaknesses of the health system,” he said. Involving communities, which includes providing correct information about Ebola disease and through having adequate interactions with communities, in addition to having strong health systems with good infection control measures, go a long way in removing these two key allies of Ebola.
It would be almost impossible for a major Ebola outbreak to happen in the U.S. or other countries with robust health systems, Dr. Miatudila said. These developed nations’ infection control practices and functional health systems would halt Ebola at the first few patients, as has been the case for the few Americans who have returned to the U.S. for treatment.
“Communication should be at the center of the Ebola response,” he said.
Dr. Miatudila has seen past outbreaks halted quickly when accurate information is provided to communities in a participatory manner about how Ebola is transmitted from person to person and people are given the opportunity to have their questions answered and concerns taken into consideration. This helped communities devise strategies and solutions by themselves that were capable of cost-effectively slowing and halting the transmission of Ebola Virus.
He noted that Ebola is capturing headlines and taking resources from other pressing public health challenges, and that the hysteria surrounding the outbreak is only making the problem worse. To give perspective, Dr. Miatudila provided a comparison of deaths globally from Ebola to deaths from other public health challenges such as malaria, HIV, and tobacco, among others. Tobacco, for example, killed 5 million people in 2013 alone, worldwide. Ebola (before the current two outbreaks in West Africa and DRC), had killed 1,326 people worldwide between 1976 and 2013.
Click here to view Dr. Miatudila's presentation slides.
Follow Dr. Miatudila on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrMiat
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