Officials: Work still remains on Ebola despite progress

Despite progress in controlling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there is still substantial work to be done, said the first member of Congress to visit the virus zone during the epidemic, according to the Washington Times.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) traveled to Liberia last week, meeting with American aid workers and U.S. military personnel, in an effort to make sure the country's crisis remains in the public eye. "[Ebola] is a ferocious disease that still poses a threat to the region and the world," he told reporters. Coons' trip was considered low-risk as he did not directly interact with Ebola patients.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden, who accompanied Coons, offered similar sentiments, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The challenge is not to let up, not to be complacent and to really double down on the effort and the intensity of outreach for each and every case," he said.

Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, which, along with Liberia, is one of the three countries hit hardest by the outbreak of the virus, Ebola has killed more than 8 percent of the country's doctors in the past 10 months, according to the Washington Post. Sierra Leone had one of the world's lowest physician-to-resident ratios even before the outbreak, with only 134 physicians for six million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then, the virus has killed 11 of the country's physicians, according to the Post, including its top virologist, Sheik Humarr Khan. In the three countries at the center of the outbreak--Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia--at least 339 healthcare workers have succumbed to the virus, according to a WHO report from early this month.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University are working with drugmaker Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc to develop a vaccine for the virus from the blood of survivors, according to Reuters. "They can take antibodies they find in my blood and map them out," said Rick Sacra, M.D., a medical missionary who recovered from Ebola after contracting it in Liberia. "They are looking for the ones that are most important in neutralizing the virus." Sacra donated his blood for research in November, according to the article. Obtaining samples of the virus to search for a vaccine has been a major obstacle for researchers.

Lending by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may have worked against healthcare provision in the outbreak zone, according to a study published in Lancet Global Health. The funds came with strings attached, researchers said, that pushed for short-term economic objectives over investment in health and education. As a result,  IMF may have contributed to the circumstances that enabled the crisis to arise in the first place, researchers said.. 

The virus is confirmed to have infected at least 12,000 people in West Africa, with 7,373 fatalities thus far, according to the CDC.

To learn more:
- here's the Washington Times article
- here's the LA Times article
- read the Post article
- read the WHO's physician density statistics
- check out the WHO's latest Ebola report
- here's the Reuters article
- read the study (.pdf)
- read the CDC statistics