In 1976, the first Ebola virus outbreak occurred in Central Africa, deriving its name from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The most recent outbreak, first announced by the Guinean Ministry of Health in March 2014, has claimed at least 5,000 lives.
Women account for an estimated 55 and 60 percent of its total victims. In Liberia alone, the health teams have reported the proportion of female casualties is as high as 75 percent.
So why are more women dying of this aggressive virus?
Often an extension of domestic gender roles, women's work in hospitals often brings them in close and constant contact with the Ebola virus. In addition to comprising a majority of nurses and birth attendants, female workers are also likelier to be hospital cleaners and launderers, which might involve contact with bodily fluids from infected patients.
Photo caption: A health worker poses inside a tent in the Ebola treatment unit being preventively set to host potential Ebola patients at the University Hospital of Yopougon, on October 17, 2014. Air Côte d'Ivoire, the national plane company, announced on October 17 it will resume its flights to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on Monday. Hysteria over Ebola has reached fever-pitch the world over despite repeated calls for calm.The virus has killed nearly 4,500 people, most of them in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the disease has reared its ugly head further afield in the United States and Spain, sparking post-apocalyptic fears of mass contagion.
In rural areas of West Africa, a majority of small-scale farmers and cross-border traders are women. Buying and selling their goods across the Guinea and Sierra Leone borders in particular put women at heightened risk of coming in contact with the Ebola virus. Now, with those borders closed off, in addition to Liberia's, women's inability to sell is having harsh economic ripple effects on households already faced with combating the Ebola virus.
Photo caption: A woman walks past a wall bearing the message "Stop Ebola" in Monrovia on September 25, 2014. World leaders were asked to pledge urgently needed aid to battle Ebola in West Africa as Sierra Leone quarantined one million people in a desperate bid to beat back the deadly virus.
In many West African cultures, when a family member dies, it's up to the women -- usually aunts or older female relatives -- to prepare bodies for burial. Though not airborne, Ebola virus can still be contracted from skin-to-skin and body fluid contact, which means the corpses of those who've died from Ebola can still be viral vectors.
Photo caption: A woman crawls towards the body of her sister as Ebola burial team members take her for cremation on October 10, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The woman had died outside her home earlier in the morning while trying to walk to a treatment center, according to her relatives. The burial of loved ones is important in Liberian culture, making the removal of infected bodies for cremation all the more traumatic for surviving family members.
One of the primary reasons women in West Africa are at greater risk of contracting Ebola virus is due to their traditional roles as domestic caregivers. Mothers look after sick children and husbands, and even if the mother is sick, other women will come to look after her, rather than the husband taking over caregiving duties.
Photo caption: A woman cleans the day's catch in the impoverished seaside slum of West Point on August 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. Poor sanitation and close living quarters have contributed to the spead of the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through bodily fluids.
The fatality rate of pregnant Ebola virus patients is as high as 95.5 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Moreover, the sweat, blood and amniotic fluid of Ebola-infected women giving birth is especially contagious. For that reason, many pregnant women are turned away from Ebola hospital wards for fear of them infecting healthcare workers and patients, which likely contributes to their higher mortality rate as well.
Photo caption: Victor Fayiah, 40 (right) and his wife Comfort Fayiah, 32, seated on a mattress on the floor of a room with their twins, Faith and Mercy beside her talk about their ordeal on September 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. Comfort went into labor and had twin girls on the ground in the yard of her church assisted by a local medic and a church mother because she could not get medical care; most hospitals and clinics were closed for non-Ebola treatment. The closed facilities are an attempt to protect medical staff and other patients from Ebola. (Monrovia, Liberia)