FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

6 June 2014

Liberia: 'Liberia Not Ebola Free' - Renewed Fear of Deadly Virus Presence

Photo: Aminata.com
Battling Ebola outbreak in Guinea.

Authorities at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have disclosed that Liberia remains vulnerable to the deadly Ebola virus that has already taken the lives of six persons.

Addressing journalists Thursday at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism regular press briefing in Monrovia, Liberia's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bernice Dahn revealed that though no new case of Ebola has been confirmed as of June 4, 2014, Liberia is not completely free from the Ebola virus because the disease continues to affect neighboring countries in the Mano river Union basin.

Said Dr. Dahn: "Is the country Ebola free? No. While it is true that the last time we confirmed or had a suspected case was April 4th, Sierra Leone announced an outbreak; I think the last week in May."

"The Situation in Guinea is still fragile and these cases are on the border with Liberia. We all know that there are families living across the border, they move across the border to make farms and they come across to sleep. And so people are moving across the border back and forth so we cannot say we are free."

Dr. Dahn said as a result of the outbreak of the virus in neighboring Sierra Leone, with six suspected deaths and 50 suspected and confirmed cases reported, the Ministry of Health is currently following up on 11 persons in Foya, Lofa County, who may have come in contact with a suspected person that arrived from Sierra Leone and died in Foya. According to Dr. Dahn, the dead body was however taken back to Sierra Leone for burial.

"We also continue with our disease surveillance activities; we continue with social mobilization and we continue to distribute and air health messages in different languages," she said.

"We provided personal protective equipment and chlorine to counties that are bordering Sierra Leone. We sent a central team from the Ministry of Health to Lofa County to help strengthen the County Heath team."

Dr. Dahn told journalists that a cross border meeting between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was held on June 30 with the aim of strengthening the collaboration to do follow-ups, information sharing and communication among the three MRU countries."

Dr. Dahn said that some key issues of concern among member states of the MRU that is contributing to the increase in the Ebola cases include traditional and cultural beliefs, burial ceremonies of dead Ebola affected person and health workers not taking infection control measures when attending to patients.

At least 292 cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Guinea with 193 deaths reported, 13 suspected cases confirmed in Liberia with 10 suspected deaths and 58 tested Ebola cases, 18 confirmed positive in the Kailahun district in Sierra Leone with 6 suspected deaths, a situation that has resulted to the death of over 200 persons in the sub region. Meanwhile, Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services Tolbert Yeshua has revealed that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare received over US$ 300,00.00 (three hundred thousand United States dollars) in response to a 1.5 million request made by the ministry to fight the Ebola virus.

He said the ministry received US$100,000.00 check from the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance, L$ 12,525,000.00 (twelve million, five hundred twenty-five thousand Liberian dollars) totaling US$250,000.00 offered by the Liberian government to battle the disease. Other donations included, US$ 54, 000.00 from the Mano River Union, $66,120 dollars from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Recently, a member of the National Legislature, Senator Cletus Wotorson(UP, Grand Kru) said the Ebola noise made by health authorities was much ado about and intended to extort money from donors. Senator Wotorson during a regular Senate session alleged that the pronouncement concerning EBOLA outbreak in Liberia was a ploy to attract donor funding.

While the senate was discussing the refusal by Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale to reinstate two dismissed health workers, Senator Peter Coleman (CDC, Grand Kru) was making a case about the Health minister's deliberate refusal to adhere to an agreement reached between the lawmakers and the Health Minister during the mediation of the striking workers and the impact on the Country.

As Senator Coleman made his point, Senator Wotorson remarked: "What kind of EBOLA? That thing your did to get donor funding your say EBOLA in Liberia."

In the wake of the renewed comment by Health authorities that Liberia is not free of the virus, the Ebola virus appears to still be around the West African sub region with new cases reported in Sierra Leone. It has been reported that five people have died in Sierra Leone's first confirmed outbreak of Ebola virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, signaling a new expansion of the disease which regional officials said had been brought under control.

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, is believed to have killed some 185 people in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia since March in the first deadly appearance of the disease in West Africa. Previously, several suspected cases of Ebola were recorded in Sierra Leone early on in the West African outbreak, but they later tested negative for the disease.

In a statement posted on its website, the WHO said the outbreak in Sierra Leone was located in an area along the country's border with Guinea's Guéckédou prefecture, where some of the earliest cases of the disease were recorded. "Preliminary information received from the field indicates that one laboratory-confirmed case and five community deaths have been reported from Koindu chiefdom," it said.

The WHO said it was deploying six experts to the area along with essential supplies. The West African outbreak spread from a remote corner of Guinea to the capital, Conakry, and into Liberia, causing panic across a region struggling with weak healthcare systems and porous borders. A total of 258 clinical cases have been recorded in Guinea since the outbreak was first identified as Ebola, including 174 deaths - 95 confirmed, 57 probable and 57 suspected - according to the WHO.

No new cases of Ebola have been detected since April 26 in Conakry, where an outbreak could pose the biggest threat of an epidemic due to the city's role as an international travel hub. 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 Institute 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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