The origin of the rapidly spreading Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has been linked to two cases: 1. From a woman in Kailahun, Sierra Leone who served wild game to herself and her husband — the animal was carrying the virus; and 2. From another Sierra Leonean woman, a traditional healer who was working in Guinea with Ebola victims.
Sierra Leone’s government has been emphasizing the fact that Ebola is mainly growing from human to human contact, however, many believe the Ebola outbreak in Guinea began with bats. Bats are hunted for food in the region and are called “bushmeat.”
In the region, women are expected to handle food for the family. This issue, coupled with the impact climate change has had on food supplies — where women are often forced to seek out infected bushmeat — shows that women are bearing the brunt of two crises in Africa: the Ebola virus and climate change.
Seasonal drought, larger storms, and landslides are beginning to have a lasting influence on agricultural production in the region, and are encouraging families to hunt for wild animals. The same has occurred in the past in Malaysia and Bangladesh, where climactic changes caused epidemics because humans and agriculture began encroaching on bat habitats. As the effects of climate change continue to set in, food will likely become more difficult to grow, especially in western equatorial Africa.
The governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone have reported that 55-60 perfect of the people who have died from Ebola are women, while the Liberian government have revealed that 75 percent have been women. According to the Liberian Health Ministry, Ebola has largely affected more women due to their duties as caregiver — they have more contact with both diseased meat and diseased people.
However, the World Health Organization and Imperial College London published a new report denying the women’s death tolls, stating that there is no large difference between the sexes. The fatality rate is estimated to be 71 percent. The WHO’s goal is for the virus to stop spreading within six to nine months; the CDC calculates that the virus can transmit to 1.4 million people within four months.
Many view the Sierra Leone government as mis-informative: while they stress that the virus is transmitted from person-to-person, they fail to educate families on where the virus originated from, and fail to inform these families about the existence of infected bushmeat.
Another strain of Ebola has broken out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the WHO has tracked the source to a pregnant woman who was preparing infected bushmeat.
Across the world, and particularly in the US, climate change has become a hot button topic — even Leonardo DiCaprio addressed the budding issue in front of the UN. When speaking on climate change, we discuss the massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions China and India release into the air; we discuss the growing number of natural disasters and the general climactic upheaval; and we discuss the effect that climate change will have on our food supplies, and on the economies of poorer nations. Now, we are actually seeing how the effects of climate change are reaching the world’s poorer, outlying nations. Moreover, we are seeing how climate change is affecting the caregivers of families and leaving many children as orphans.
This is an increasingly prevalent duality that deserves our attention. If the celebrity of Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t direct our attention to the worsening impact of climate change, then hopefully this situation will.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
September 24, 2014
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