Worst Ebola outbreak, poor response

Sunday July 13 2014

PHOTO | AFP Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated.

PHOTO | AFP Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The current outbreak of Ebola virus disease now ravaging three West African nations illustrates how African nations lack the capacity in dealing with a stealth and fast killer disease.  AFP

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The current outbreak of Ebola virus disease now ravaging three West African nations illustrates how African nations lack the capacity in dealing with a stealth and fast killer disease.

Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone failed to borrow from military phraseology, “When you hear a shot, counter-attack.” There was precious little to attack with.
An Ebola strain, Zaire, claimed the first victim in Guinea in February. It moved to Liberia and by mid-April in Sierra Leone.

In fairness, the usual international disease outbreak fire-fighters—Doctors Without Borders, the US Centers for Disease Control and the UN World Health Organization—quickly responded.

When presidents of Mano River Union: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with Ghana’s foreign minister in attendance, met on May 3, in Conakry, subsiding numbers of suspected victims, especially in Guinea, led them to issue an optimistic communiqué.

It “hailed the efforts of each member state and, in particularly Guinea, to contain the spread of the Ebola epidemic and to stress the need to continue medical monitoring at the borders, in order to eradicate this scourge in the sub-region.” It was most premature.

On July 2-3, WHO convened a summit of health ministers in Accra, Ghana’s capital. It brought together health ministers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ebola experts. Ugandan representatives attended.

This meeting should have taken place immediately Guinea heard the first shot. Its recommendations and plan of action explain why.

Anyway, so far WHO reports virus infections have hit the 888th mark and claimed 538 lives. It’s the worst recorded Ebola outbreak.

Out of control

The Doctors Without Borders said the outbreak was “out of control,” The Telegraph reported. Worse, the newspaper said, 1,500 people who had been in contact with victims remained at large, making more infections possible.

Virological details aside, the virus in question is transmitted from animals to humans and humans to humans through contact with bodily fluids.

Symptoms aren’t anything to prompt a dash to a doctor; a search for an aspirin, maybe. Generally, after five days, the horror begins: vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, body rashes internal haemorrhaging and, in severe cases, bleeding from the mouth, nose, ears and rectum. Up to 90 per cent of the victims die. Vaccine and cure don’t exist. Hygienic observation and intensive care are all. They are scarce in the continent.

Although the current outbreak is the first in West Africa, subtypes of the Ebola virus have hit several African nations, beginning with Zaire, now the DRC, in 1976. Since then, they’ve hit, in some cases severally, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan and, Gabon.
Simply put, Ebola virus strains remain alive and will strike fast, similarly kill, and hibernate. Conditions under which the Ebola virus thrived, beginning with poverty and ignorance, still exists. A communiqué the Accra summit issued illustrates the challenges and gaps that exist in controlling the outbreak.

They include “coordination of the outbreak, financing, communication, cross border collaboration, logistics, case management, infection control, surveillance, contact tracing, community participation and research.”

A WHO Sub-Regional centre in Conakry is to be established in Conakry to deal with the shortcomings. It should be continental, to stop being caught napping saga.