27 March 2014

Gambia: More Strategies Considered to Prevent Ebola in Gambia

Health stakeholders in The Gambia have stepped-up more efforts and strategies to prevent the highly contagious Ebola disease from entering The Gambia, after its deadly outbreak in the neighbouring West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Officials of the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare on Wednesday organised another meeting at the former's head office along Kairaba Avenue to follow up on recommendations for a strong sensitisation process across the country.

It came after Monday's emergency meeting by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare as well as that of Tuesday by stakeholders at the United Nations House in Cape Point, Bakau.

Readers would recall that on Monday, the Health Ministry announced that a team of public health personnel was deployed across all border entry points to strengthen Ebola surveillance for timely control and management in case of any suspected case. But Wednesday's meeting stressed for the sensitisation to be done through the media and community outreach initiatives so that people could be more cautious about the disease.

The Public Health Emergency and Disaster focal person at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Abdoulie Camara, described as deadly the Ebola virus, which traces its origin to birds, chimpanzees and monkeys amongst other species. He enlightened that the virus is transmitted to human beings through the consumption of the above-mentioned animals, noting that it can be transferred from human to human through body secretions like blood transmission. "This disease used to be in Congo, Zaire, Sudan and their neighbouring countries until recently when it was reported to be in the southern part of Guinea Conakry in February 2014. Sources have revealed that there are about 80 cases in Guinea and over 59 people are dead as a result of the infection. We have confirmed that there are two contact cases in Sierra Leone and other suspected cases in Liberia. The case fertility rate is almost 70% which is evident of how dangerous this infection is as it can kill within 24 hours," Camara informed.

The signs and symptoms of the Ebola, according to him, include diarrhoea, headache, fever, dehydration and bleeding from the orifices, nose, anus, skin and mouth. Camara explained that when one is infected, the incubation period takes two to 21 days before the person starts to see the signs. He told the meeting that there is no recorded case of Ebola in The Gambia yet, but that the authorities are taking all possible measures to make sure that people are well sensitised and protected because the disease has no cure neither can it be prevented by vaccines. "This is all the more reason why all UN agencies, the Ministry of Health and the NDMA among other stakeholders are joining forces to strictly monitor the movement of people in and out of the country especially at the borders," he said.

As part of their measures of strengthening surveillance, Camara said the security personnel at all border points will be taking details of everybody from a different country so as to closely monitor their health conditions within a month for confirmation. "My Department will be visiting those individuals to test their blood and other necessary things," he indicated, while lamenting that it is always a challenge for foreigners to report to health centers when they are sick.

The senior health officer also spoke of their commitment to ensure that the tourism industry, a great source of economic growth in the country, is closely monitored. "Health is the backbone of every nation and if we are infected it can easily retard our development," Camara noted.

The executive director of the NDMA, Lt. Col Alhagie Sanneh, said that disaster managers around the world have now changed from acting after the calamity to prevention, hence the emergency meeting. He noted that the forum is meant to lay out plans that will help the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to prevent the entry of the disease into the country.

As a coordinating Agency, he disclosed that they have plans to mobilise funds for proper management of such urgent situations. To this effect, he indicated that a document has been drafted and sent to their donor agencies in areas where assistance would be needed, for early preparedness. "A report will be sent to our humanitarian partners as to what we are doing as a country. We are working on what to do before it comes and also access the need of capability of whether or not we can handle the situation when it comes to the country, and how to let the people know about this infection," he added.

The chairperson of the Ambassadors of Disaster Risk Reduction (ADRR), Sulayman Jawo, said it is a wise decision for authorities to increase awareness on the issue. He seized the opportunity to thank them for their rapid response to the situation, while urging the general public to be fully on alert and visit health facilities in case of any suspected signs and symptoms.

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