Guinea Rolls Out Ebola Vaccines, Hoping to Bring Outbreak Under Control

A team of contact tracers visits a community in Conakry, Guinea, on January 14, 2015 after a family member was infected with Ebola. A community workers, followed by a team of doctors, measures the temperature of a family member.

More than 200 people in Guinea have been vaccinated against Ebola, just days after the arrival of some 11,000 doses of the Merck vaccine and just over a week since the West African country declared its first Ebola outbreak since the deadly epidemic from 2014 to 2016.

"The work is ongoing, the awareness campaign is done, and we hope in the days to come we will have a greater number of people vaccinated," said Dr Bachir Kanté, a senior advisor at Guinea's health ministry.

Guinea has registered nine cases of Ebola and recorded five deaths from this latest outbreak, which was confirmed on 14 February in Gouécké, a rural community in the region of N'Zérékoré, close to the border with Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia.

Vaccines have been administered to 225 people, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and three vaccination sites have been set up.

Learning from the past

WHO sent more than 11,000 doses of rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine from its headquarters in Geneva, as part of an emergency response to combat the spread of the deadly haemorrhagic fever.

"We've learnt the hard lessons of history, and we know with Ebola, and other health emergencies, preparedness works," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's Africa director, during a briefing on Thursday.

Plans to get ready for possible Ebola outbreaks are being rolled out in six neighbouring countries, according to Moeti. She outlined surveillance and screening being put in place at border crossings, as well as high-risk communities, and the deployment of rapid response teams.

Threat of double epidemic worries Guineans as Ebola vaccines dispatched

Kanté said the "process is ongoing" in tracking contact cases, and the government is using different channels of communication to raise awareness, including through traditional leaders, which he said was especially important given the distance from the capital Conakry.

WHO said there were 394 contact cases with 97% of them already under surveillance.

"The governments have gotten off the block very quickly, so in a way, it's showing the accumulation of understanding, capacity, based on very painful experiences in the past," said Moeti. The last outbreak in West Africa ravaged Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing some 11,000 people and taking more than two years to contain.

Control access

In Gouécké, the authorities have set up eight separate barriers to control people going in and out of the community, according to Kanté. Local residents have temperature checks, and their details taken, including telephone numbers and destinations to enable tracing.

"We've not completely closed the epicentre, but health barriers are in place, so people circulate, it's true, but filtering is in place," said Kanté.

During the last Ebola outbreak in West Africa, some communities were locked down and left isolated from the world, notably causing food insecurity, as governments grappled with the extent of the outbreak.

"Some weeks after the first cases, we're still at nine cases, so for us, this is a very good development," said Nsenga Ngoy, the head of emergency response at WHO's Africa office, underlining their hopes that the vaccine will help bring the outbreak under control quickly.

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