30 March 2014

West Africa: Ebola Presence Confirmed

Photo: allAfrica.com
Patients being treated at a Liberia hospital. (file photo)

Monrovia — Health Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale has confirmed that two out of five tests sent to France for examination has confirmed that the deadly Ebola virus is in territorial limits of Liberia. Speaking to FrontPageAfrica Sunday night, Dr. Gwenigale explained that one of the deaths reported in Foya, Lofa County last week was confirmed from the tests from France as positive with the Ebola virus.

Said Dr. Gwenigale: "The lady who died from Foya was a result of Ebola and the woman taking care of her is still alive. However, she left Foya to come down to Firestone to her husband. We have searched and found her and has already instructed Dr. Mabande, the Medical Administrator at the Firestone Hospital to isolate her from people."

Dr. Gwenigale explained that health authorities have also found the husband of the lady and that the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA has been notified. The confirmation comes as Liberia struggles in dealing with the anxiety associated with the reported outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus in Guinea and its subsequent spreading to Liberia with over eight cases reported by health authorities, which by the end of last week had vanished.

As of March 26, 2014, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare announced that there were no new suspected cases of the viral hemorrhagic fever and that the number of suspected cases remains at six with four deaths since March 24, 2016. While the ministry is frantically trying to convince the Liberian Public that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia, the Legislature is pushing ahead with an estimated budgetary allotment to fight the disease.

Dr. Peter Coleman, former Minister of Health and Social and head of the Senate Committee told members of the Senate last week that an amount of US$1.2 million is needed to help prevent the virus. Dr. Coleman also informed his colleagues that donors have expressed willingness to provide funding to Liberia t fight the virus but wants the Government to take the lead.

Senator Coleman said: "The process for containing an epidemic is costly and a budget has been drawn up in the tone of one point two million United Sates dollars to contain this because it entails a lot of different things ranging from public awareness to sending the specimen of cases to foreign countries for testing."

Coleman asserts that the European Union has committed to help support the 1.2 million United States dollar projections for prevention of the virus which has been confirmed in neighboring Guinea and urged his colleagues to take the lead by providing the first budgetary support to the initiative.

"We will be getting support from the EU in the next few days to help curtail spread of this virus so for us as a government Mr. Pro-Temp and distinguished colleagues of the senate, it is important that some initial funding of this US$ 1.2 million be made available to the Health Ministry from the national budget. Our donors are eager to see what we as a government will do first", he added.

He said that after a meeting amongst the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, local and International Non-Governmental Organizations and health committee of both houses (Senate and House) it was agreed that the government provides the one point two million United States dollars for prevention.

Dr. Coleman, who worked during the height of the 2003 rebel onslaught on Monrovia, taking care of Liberia's wounded fro the war, said this amount will help Liberia to create the necessary awareness needed to prevent a disease that has not yet been confirmed, from spreading.

Liberians have now become wary of the talk about Ebola, the deadly virus with no history of survivals and thought that politicians would suggest the need money to prevent it might be another way to extort money from Liberia's already struggling financial systems.

"The first step should be the temporary closure of our border with Guinea. Do not rely solely on the usual border guards at those border crossings; they could compromise the enforcement because of relationships with people on the other side of the border. I have visited many of our border crossings with Guinea so I know what I am talking about. If our border with Guinea remains open during this time, no amount money will protect our people from this virus. Please Liberia, let's be sovereign and independent for once," said David Benitoe · George Mason University, on FrontPageAfricaonline.

But doctors have warned that the best way out is prevention and the virus now fast spreading in a porous and poor health care delivery system West African sub region and for people like Dr. Coleman, US$ 1.2M is not too much to give.

European Union Steps in

The European Commission on Friday in a release issued in Brussels confirmed it is giving €500 000 (Euros) to help contain the spread of the deadly virus in Guinea and neighbouring countries, which include Liberia. The EU said it has also sent a health expert to Guinea to help assess the situation and liaise with the local authorities.

"We are deeply concerned about the spread of this virulent disease and our support will help ensure immediate health assistance to those affected by it," said Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "It's vital that we act swiftly to prevent the outbreak from spreading, particularly to neighbouring countries."

The Commission stated that the funding will be used by the its humanitarian partner organization Médecins Sans Frontières for clinical management, including the isolation of patients and psychosocial support, the tracing of suspected cases as well as the training and supply of personal protective equipment for health workers. It also disclosed that there will also be community-based awareness raising initiatives so as to help diminish the risk of the further spread of the virus.

"The EU is following closely how the situation develops with its Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). It is also working with international partners, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), to track the outbreak," the Commission stated in its release.

The EU noted that it has been confirmed in Guinea coupled with reports that suspected cases are now in Sierra Leone and Liberia, three countries that are very closely related in terms of common trade; Ebola has become a cause for concern in the region.

"At least 60 people have died from an outbreak of the deadly virus in Guinea with the outbreak moving from the jungle to the Capital, Conakry with unconfirmed reports that five have also died from the disease in Liberia," stated the EU release.

ECOWAS Concerned

In a communiqué issued by the Mediation and Security Council of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the end of its 31st Meeting in Yamoussokro, Cote d'Ivoire on held on March 25, 2014, the Council underscored the need for a robust regional response in putting a halt to the further spread of the deadly disease.

The Council called on the President of the ECOWAS Commission, in consultation with the West African Health Organization (WAHO), to take appropriate and swift actions to mobilize the stakeholders and the needed resources to stem out the epidemic from the region. The Council called on the International Community to assist the affected countries in the management of the Ebola epidemic in the region.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister of Guinea informed the Council that the Government of Guinea has initiated some preliminary measures with a view to preventing the contraction and spread of the Ebola epidemic. These measures he said include quarantining those diagnosed of the Ebola Haemorraheagic fever; and discouraging the consumption of bats, which are believed to be transmitters of the Ebola virus.

Liberians and the fear factor

Fear continues to grip Liberians as news of the Ebola outbreak continues to spread. Even the traditional Liberian way of greeting and interacting with people continues to be threatened as people are now more careful about how they come into bodily contact with friends and family. The regular handshake has been curtailed and even in the supermarkets, attendants are seen wearing gloves. "As for me I will not shake anybody's hands until this whole Ebola thing finish," a lady told a close friend who had happily extended a hand to greet her.

Can Money help?

Liberia's experience with the prevention of diseases and emergency in the past is raising eyebrows amongst the population with many questioning whether money can help to prevent the spread of Ebola. During the fight against Army Worms in some counties in Liberia, it was reported that people in affected communities did not benefit from humanitarian assistance with communities lacking wells and other good sanitation needs.

Many Liberians are still arguing that the Ebola noise is a scheme by health officials to request funding from Government and international organizations. With no laboratories and trained health practitioners in preventing viruses as deadly as Ebola, there are some who hold the belief that Liberia lacks the capacity to fight Ebola.

MOH Calls for Preventative measures

Liberia's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice T. Dahn, last week assured the country that the ministry and partners have strengthened coordination to scale up field investigations to identify suspected cases and contacts, including outreach around border towns in Liberia as well as follow-up, provision of personal protective equipment, IV fluids, among others.

Dr. Dahn told journalists at the regular Ministry of Information press briefing that coordination meetings are also taking place in the counties between the County Health Teams and local officials as preventive measures against any possible spread of the disease to Liberia. Dr. Dahn also said Health workers are trained would be posted at various ports of entry in Lofa, Bong, Nimba, Cape Mount, Margibi, and Montserrado counties to increase awareness on the disease and ways to prevent it.

Health workers are also being trained to at various hospitals to handle suspected cases. County Health Teams are closely working with local authorities to help prevent a possible spread of the disease from neighboring countries.

"The public is encouraged to take the following precautionary measures during this suspected Ebola emergency Limit as much as possible, direct contact with body fluids of infected persons or dead persons. Avoid physical contacts such as handshakes, kissing, etc," she said.

"Wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as possible. Avoid direct contacts with animals such as fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat. Avoid contact with body fluids of infected person or dead person. Treat your water with chlorine before drinking."

Ebola background

To date, 103 suspected and confirmed cases and 66 deaths have been reported in Guinea, eight suspected cases in Liberia including six deaths, as well as six suspected cases in Sierra Leona including five deaths. Investigations on these are under way. First discovered in DR Congo and Sudan in 1976, several outbreaks of this viral haemorrhagic fever have been reported in East and Central Africa, but not in West Africa.

Guinea is one of the least developed countries, periodically hit by epidemics such as meningitis, yellow fever and especially cholera. On 22 March the Guinean Government revealed that Institut Pasteur in France had identified the Ebola filovirus in samples of cases initially associated with Lassa fever.

The highly contagious, human to human transmission of Ebola occurs by simple contact with blood and body fluids. No vaccine or treatment is yet available for this pathogen, one of the world's most lethal with a case fatality rate of up to 90% depending on the strain.

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