Abuja - There are currently around 2 500 people living desperately trying to fight off Ebola in West Africa, almost the same number have already died from the disease. The biggest concern for many of these people is that there is still no cure.
Or is there?
Attention has turned to the minority of people that have contracted Ebola and lived to tell the tale. Having beaten the virus, there is a high chance that their blood contains antibodies which can fight the virus.
This blood is referred to as a convalescent serum, and is a valid form of medical treatment. Recently, an American aid worker who contracted Ebola received blood from Kent Brantly, who survived his own infection, reported CNN. Some believe this could be the basis for an Ebola vaccine.
However, the treatment is by no means proven, or safe, and this means that there is no official distribution of convalescent serum. The desperation and fear tied to the disease means that a lively black market has sprung up to trade the blood of survivors, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
How this black market works is unclear, and it is certainly possible for profiteers to flood the market with blood from people who've never had Ebola at all. What's worse, though, it the potentially catastrophic consequences of receiving bad-quality blood.
One of the most pressing concerns is that individuals will not seek out blood that is the same type as theirs. A transfusion of blood of another type can have serious health consequences, commonly including anaphylactic shock and death, reports the Washington Post. Given the low levels of education is many rural areas of West Africa, this concern is unlikely to arise until it's too late.
Another serious problem is the spread of other diseases. As this blood is not being distributed through official medical channels, it is unlikely to undergo proper analysis before being sold to users. This blood could thus contain HIV or Hepatitis, among many other bloodborne pathogens. In the patient's already compromised state, this diseases could quickly worsen their condition and even hasten death.
For their part, the WHO have pledge to work with local governments to stamp out this illegal trade, though it remains to be seen how easy a prospect this will be.
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