On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, the Congolese government declared the end of the Ebola epidemic that has killed 33 people since the beginning of May in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two days later, the government of Sierra Leone on the other hand has come out with less good news: a new form of the virus has been discovered.
Five distinct types of Ebola virus have so far been reported: Zaire, Sudan, Bundibugyo, Reston and Taï Forest. This new type of virus, known as Bombali, is the sixth type of Ebola discovered so far. The Zaire form of the virus had already appeared in the region in December 2013, more specifically in southern Guinea, before spreading to two neighboring West African countries: Liberia and Sierra Leone. The consequent epidemic was the deadliest in men since the Ebola virus was first identified in 1976. It killed more than 11,300 people out of nearly 29,000 registered cases, according to estimates from the World Health Organization.
In Sierra Leone, the Ebola epidemic has transformed people’s relationship to medicine and traditions rooted in rural areas of the country. “Only when the powerful healers – who believed themselves invincible – began to die that people realized that it was real,” says Dr. Massaquoi. Faced with a hitherto unknown evil in West Africa, people believed at first that it was a curse, and preferred to consult local healers rather than travel long distances to public health facilities, which themselves often have limited means. Since then, hospitals have “enormously evolved” according to Dr. Massaquoi, thanks in particular to purchases of equipment financed by international agencies.
Researchers have identified this Bombali virus from studies on bats. Nevertheless, they believe that this new form could be transmitted to humans. “It is not yet known whether the Bombali Ebola virus has been transmitted to humans or is causing disease in humans, but it has the potential to infect human cells”, says Amara Jambai, a senior official of the Ministry of Health. “These are the first steps,” Jambai said, urging people to remain calm while waiting for further research.
The scientists who discovered the new virus in the Bombali district, northern Sierra Leone, are currently cooperating with the government to determine whether humans have been infected. “As a precaution, people should refrain from eating bats,” said Harold Thomas, spokesman for the health ministry.
Nevertheless, Sierra Leoneans are not immune to new deadly epidemics. In question, the lack of running water and sanitation in most homes in the country. According to the NGO WaterAid, 37.4% of Sierra Leoneans do not have access to drinking water. Basic sanitary conditions are currently not in place to deal with a potential new epidemic.