As efforts accelerate to rapidly address new Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) is deploying teams of experts to help national authorities accelerate the response and avoid widespread infections.
Guinean health authorities declared an Ebola outbreak on February 14 after three cases detected in Gouécké, a rural community in N’Zerekore prefecture, tested positive for the virus. It is the first Ebola outbreak in Guinea since 2016, when a large one was controlled.
More than 100 WHO staff, deployed from other countries and from Guinea, are expected to be part of the Ebola response by the end of February. A team of eight experts from the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville will be leaving soon. Efforts are underway to intensify surveillance, contact tracing, testing and treatment, as well as preparation for vaccination.
“We are working hard, rapidly changing gears to get ahead of the virus. Now that experts and emergency supplies are on the ground, the response is off to a good start, ”said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Our collective and swift action is crucial to prevent an uncontrolled spread of Ebola amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already pushed healthcare workers and healthcare facilities to the limit.”
A humanitarian flight arrived in N’Zerekore on February 15 with 700 kg of medical equipment donated by WHO and its partners. A shipment of more than 11,000 doses of Ebola vaccine is expected to arrive in Guinea this weekend. In addition, more than 8,500 doses will be shipped from the United States of America for a total of 20,000 doses. The vaccination will start shortly after. A vaccination team of 30 people has already been mobilized locally and is ready to deploy as soon as the vaccines are received.
Meanwhile, in the DRC, there are four confirmed cases of Ebola so far, including two deaths that are epidemiologically linked. WHO has about 20 experts in the field who support national and provincial health authorities. Approximately 8,000 doses of vaccine were still available in the country at the end of the 11th Ebola outbreak. Vaccination of people at high risk was officially launched in Butembo, the epicenter of the outbreak on February 15. So far, nearly 70 people have been vaccinated. The rapid deployment of vaccines is a testament to the enormous local capacity built in previous outbreaks by WHO and its partners.
WHO has released $ 1.25 million to support the response in Guinea and strengthen preparedness for Ebola in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. In addition, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has disbursed $ 15 million to support the response in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and preparedness in neighboring countries.
Since the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea is a border area, countries in the subregion are on high alert and are increasing public health measures and surveillance in border cities and communities to detect and respond quickly to potential cross-border infections.
The ongoing response in Guinea and preparedness in neighboring countries build on the experience gained during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. WHO and its partners worked with national teams to build capacity in all critical areas of surveillance and response.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa began in Guinea and spread across land borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. When it was finally brought under control, there were 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, making it the deadliest since the virus was first detected in 1976.
Ebola is a serious and extremely deadly acute viral disease. It is characterized by the sudden onset of fever, severe weakness, muscle pain, headache, nausea, and a sore throat. This can be followed by vomiting, diarrhea, kidney and liver failure and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
Dr. Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Dr. Mohamed Lamine Yansane, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Health of Guinea, and Ngonda Saasa, Head of the Department of Disease Control, College of Veterinary Medicine and Head of the UNZAVET Virology Laboratory, Zambia. Also available to answer questions were Dr Abdou Salam Gueye, Regional Director of Emergencies, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Richard Mihigo, Coordinator of the Immunization and Vaccine Development Program, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Georges Ki-Zerbo, WHO Representative in Guinea Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, Regional Virologist, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr. Mory Keita, Technical Officer, WHO Regional Office for Africa.
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