When Ebola first broke out in some isolated and remote area of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, nobody knew what had hit them. A 27 year old young man, named Peter Piot, was sent to investigate the mysterious out break which had claimed 318 lives and discovered the pathogen. He and his team named it Ebola after the river by which it was discovered.
Almost 30 years after this discovery, the world has been hit by yet another outbreak of Ebola as it has been in the past. But this was expected.
“I was convinced there would always be Ebola outbreaks, because there is a reservoir, in bats. But I couldn’t imagine it would get out of control,” says Piot
The fact that none of the previous outbreaks were as bad as this one, along with others, caused such havoc in West Africa. The foremost was the poor health system which allowed it to go undetected coupled with the fact that lack of sanitation and education caused it to bloom into a global issue.
“Because Ebola had never been detected in West Africa, I can understand why it took three months to diagnose it, particularly in a country [Guinea, where the outbreak began] where health systems are so poorly developed,” he explained.”But in March, all the stops should have been pulled out. There was a slow response locally, out of ignorance and under-estimation, and the international community also was slow.”
He said that it was the lack of understanding of the disease and a lack on the part of the health organizations that not until “a thousand dead Africans and two Americans who were repatriated” did the world realize the gravity of the situation.
Even though he understands about the problems and stigma of having contracted Ebola, he is hopeful that the future generations would not have to go through this and elimination of the disease would prove to be effective.
“There is an opportunity to make sure that this is the last Ebola epidemic where all we have to beat it is quarantine,” he concluded.
Professor Peter Piot is currently the director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and avidly researches in global health issues.