75% of Ebola Victims are Women. Here’s the Reason.

by Hannah Baxter

As the unprecedented Ebola outbreak continues to ravage Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, a startling fact regarding the death tolls has come to light: 75% of those who die from the virus are women. That’s because most of the primary caregivers, nurses, and cross-border traders in those counties are female.

Specialists say that the disease is fairly manageable as long as those in close proximity with the sick avoid bodily fluids or other forms of physical contact. That is a difficult order for those who are losing friends and family members to Ebola, since traditionally, these people wash and bury the body out of love and respect.  The virus is at its most dangerous in the body of a recently deceased individual, so protocol dictates that no one is allowed to touch them without proper, and often unavailable, precautions.

Sayday Williamson Taylor, a psychiatrist volunteering for the national Ebola hotline says, “When you’re told not to [wash or bury the bodies] it’s like we’re being denied the chance to give a mother, a child, that last love… And it’s hard for the sick. You have to say, ‘I love you, but I can’t touch you.'” The universal human desire to grieve and to mourn with those closest to the victims is taken away, and for mothers, that is almost as inhumane as the disease itself. 

 With a combined total of over 4,000 deaths, Ebola is showing little mercy for the compassion of caregivers and hospital workers. Gloves, which were rarely used except for extreme cases, are now mandatory in Liberian clinics and a head to toe uniform called PPE, or personal protective equipment, is being distributed to health care workers in order to treat patients. For the wives, daughters, aunts and mothers who are caring for the infected at home, there is no such plan to provide protective gear, nor are the strange plastic garments exactly suited for the final private moments of a dying friend or family member. 

 The Independent reported that Marciel Seeger, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, states, “reaching women and educating them on the disease is crucial to tackling the virus’ spread, as they play a major role ‘as conduits of information in their communities.'” Once more women understand how to protect themselves and their families, the number of female deaths, among others, will hopefully decrease. 

 For pregnant women, the diagnosis is even graver, as a 1999 study in Belgium reported that 14 out of 15 women (96%) and their fetuses died after contracting the disease. Given the vast supply of blood vessels in the placenta and pregnant uterus, bleeding is a major concern for infected mothers, contributing to a much higher death rate than that of a non-pregnant person (to date, 77%). With expectant mothers being forced to give birth in Ebola-stricken hospitals where the person in the bed next to her might have the infection, it is a terrifying prospect for both mother and child. 

 As health centers across West Africa continue to fight the spread of Ebola and citizens do whatever they can to mourn their dead safely and respectfully, there is hope that continued education will curb the outbreak, especially among the female caregivers who are sacrificing their lives to give comfort and compassion to those for whom a cure cannot come soon enough. 


 images c/o: indépendant.co.uk, buzzfeed.com, forbes.com, huffpost.com

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