Concord Times (Freetown)

Sierra Leone: As Fears Heighten About 'Ebola' Outbreak - Taskforce Formed to Coordinate Public Health Response

Minister of Health and Sanitation, Ms. Miatta Ballay Kargbo, yesterday revealed that an emergency national response team, known as 'The Taskforce', has been established to coordinate and communicate government's response to a feared outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. She said the team would work in collaboration with development partners.

She confirmed that the move was in direct response to an outbreak of a mysterious virus, feared to be Ebola, which has been reported in neighbouring Guinea, and has already killed close to sixty people.

Reports monitored from Guinea, however, say the deaths were not caused by Ebola, although nothing has been attributed to the deaths so far.

She revealed that The Taskforce, comprising representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF, NGO partners including World Vision, Save the Children, MSF, held their first meeting on Monday (24 March).

She maintained that a technical team, which includes the Chief Medical Officer, Director of Disease Prevention and Control, WHO and UNICCEF, meets regularly via conference call with their counterparts in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali and Senegal since the outbreak was reported in Guinea, adding that the ministry has expanded the team in a bid to have sub-teams for case management, coordinating, communication, laboratory and surveillance, which meet at different locations.

She said development partners have pledged support to use their comparative strength to provide assistance to the country.

Ms. Kargbo noted that The Taskforce has been set up so that any emergency could be properly coordinated and in order to avoid challenges the ministry encountered during the last cholera outbreak in 2012, when partners and government agencies embarked on an uncoordinated effort to stem the epidemic.

Ms. Kargbo conceded that a lot was still desired to be done by way of communicating to the public about the current state and status of investigation into the health emergency.

On his part, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, said there has been no confirmed case of Ebola yet in the country, and that the Health Ministry has set up a surveillance team in Buedu, Kailahun District and Sowa Chiefdom in Kono District, both in eastern Sierra Leone, on the border with Guinea.

He said the team would take blood samples of persons who may have come in contact with the corpse of the 14-year-old boy who reportedly died on his return from a funeral in Guinea. He said the blood samples would then be brought to the Kenema government hospital for testing. He confirmed that the deceased died in Guinea, half a mile to the country's border, although he was buried in Sierra Leone.

According to Dr. Kargbo, Ebola is similar to Lassa fever, which is epidemic to eastern Sierra Leone, the reason blood samples from relatives and contact persons will be tested in Kenema.

He said neighbouring Guinea currently faces a diseases outbreak - measles, cholera, meningitis and Lassa fever - which all have similar symptoms to the Ebola disease. He said the only way to diagnose whether a person has contacted Ebola is to isolate the virus in the laboratory, and that this is what the ministry has set about doing with relatives of the 14-year-old and those who had contact with the corpse.

He also revealed that a team was in Kambia to investigate the death of four persons in a village in the Braimaya Chiefdom, Kambia District, suspected to be caused by the Ebola virus.

The mysterious disease is reported to have spread through south-eastern Guinea, in the predominantly forested area, to Conakry, the capital, killing at least 60 people, for over six weeks now.

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