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Vaccination against the Ebola virus begins in Guinea to stem a new epidemic

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Vaccination against the Ebola virus of high-risk people began today in Guinea as the emergency response was stepped up to counter the spread of the virus which reappeared in the country just over a week ago for the first time since 2016.

Vaccination was launched in Gouecke, a rural community in N’Zérékore prefecture where the first cases were detected on February 14. The Minister of Health and Public Hygiene of Guinea, General Remy Lamah, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations, Vincent Martin, the Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Guinea, Dr Georges Ki- Zerbo and UNICEF Guinea Representative Pierre Ngom were among the officials at the event.

Vaccination uses the “ring strategy” where all people who have come into contact with a confirmed Ebola patient receive the vaccine, as well as frontline and health workers. The launch began with the vaccination of health workers.

“The last time Guinea faced an Ebola epidemic, vaccines were still being developed,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “With the experience and expertise it has accumulated, combined with safe and effective vaccines, Guinea has the tools and know-how to respond to this epidemic. WHO is proud to help the government engage and empower communities, protect health and other frontline workers, save lives, and deliver high quality care.

Vaccination began just 24 hours after Guinea received more than 11,000 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine that were dispatched by WHO from its headquarters in Geneva. In addition, the WHO is planning the deployment of more than 8,500 doses of Merck, the producer of the vaccine in the United States of America, bringing to approximately 20,000 doses expected in the initial phase of vaccination.

The World Food Program is providing crucial logistical support by organizing special flights to transport vaccines and other supplies to N’Zérékore from Conakry.

The rapid deployment of the Ebola virus vaccine is in part due to the enhanced capacity of Guinea during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. About 50 Guineans have also been deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to support the country’s response during the last three Ebola outbreaks and are now leveraging that expertise in their home countries.

“The speed with which Guinea has successfully started its vaccination efforts is remarkable and is due in large part to the enormous contribution its experts have made to the recent Ebola outbreaks in the DRC,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Director WHO Regional for Africa. “The Africans who support their fellow Africans in the fight against one of the most dangerous diseases on the planet are a testament to the emergency response capacity that we have built over the years on the continent.

Implementing an Ebola vaccination strategy is a complex procedure because vaccines must be kept at a temperature of minus 80 degrees centigrade. Guinea has developed ultra-cold chain capability with vaccine carriers, which can keep vaccine doses at sub-zero temperatures for a week.

So far, there are eight cases of Ebola (four confirmed and four probable) and five people have died. Genome sequencing is underway at the Institut Pasteur in Senegal to identify the strain of the Ebola virus. Guinean health authorities supported by WHO expert teams and partner agencies are stepping up their efforts to identify contacts, set up treatment centers, strengthen surveillance, support the vaccination campaign and work with communities to rally them to Ebola containment efforts.

About fifty international and national WHO experts, including vaccinators, are already on the ground in Guinea and by the end of the month, more than 100 WHO experts are expected to be part of the response to contain the Ebola epidemic. WHO has disbursed US $ 1.25 million to support the response in Guinea and strengthen Ebola preparedness in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has also released $ 15 million to support the response in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and preparedness in neighboring countries.

Guinea’s neighbors are on high alert, stepping up public health measures and surveillance to quickly detect and stop any cross-border transmission of Ebola. N’Zérékore is the second largest city in Guinea and is close to the border with Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

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