West African countries ramp up Ebola preparedness


As Ebola immunization scales up in Guinea, the country’s neighbouring nations are on high alert, urgently preparing to detect, isolate and manage any cases and quickly stamp out potential cross-border outbreaks.

Nine cases, including five deaths have been reported in Guinea. While no confirmed cases of Ebola have been recorded outside of the country, the latest outbreak in N’Zerekore prefecture is close to porous borders with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.

All six nations bordering Guinea are finalising their national preparedness and readiness operational plans in line with a WHO readiness assessment tool. The overall state of readiness in the six countries is nearly 66% which is still lower than the benchmark of 80%.

Surveillance and screening are being stepped up at border crossing points and in high-risk communities. Rapid response teams are being deployed to border areas to support preparedness plans of health districts. Testing and treatment facilities are being scaled up and work to ensure communities take full ownership and rally around public health responses is underway. So far 20 alerts of suspected cases have been reported in three countries. All tested negative for Ebola.

“We’ve learned the hard lessons of history and we know with Ebola and other health emergencies preparedness works. It’s act now or pay later in lives lost and economies ruined. Systematic surveillance, comprehensive preparations and strong, cross-border coordination are crucial to detecting any cases and ensuring that they are quickly isolated, treated and that vaccination of high-risk contacts begin quickly,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Guinea has moved rapidly to start providing the Ebola vaccine to people at high risk, launching a vaccination drive in Gouecke, N’Zerekore prefecture, the outbreak’s epicentre, a little over a week after the first case was reported. As of today, WHO reports find that 225 people have been vaccinated in Guinea, including 66 high-risk contacts.

WHO has disbursed US$ 1.25 million to support the response in Guinea and to reinforce Ebola readiness in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has also released US$ 15 million to support the response to the Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as preparedness in the neighbouring countries.

In Guinea itself, around 65 WHO international and national experts are on the ground and the government has supported a special flight to bring in doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine, ultra-cold chain containers, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies from Conakry to N’Zerekore

In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province there have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola and four deaths in the latest outbreak that was declared on 7 February. Persistent insecurity, tragically illustrated by the recent death of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio in the region, is hampering efforts to detect cases and trace the contacts of those infected. More than 650 people have been vaccinated so far. About 8000 vaccine doses were still available in the country at the end of the 11th Ebola outbreak. Another 4320 doses are expected to arrive early next week.

Ebola Virus Disease is a severe, lethal illness that typically kills around half of those infected. It spreads between people through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids of infected people and from surfaces and materials contaminated with these fluids.

The 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak began in Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. When it was finally brought under control there were about 28 000 cases and 11 000 deaths, making it the deadliest since the virus was first detected in 1976.

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Dr Bachir Kanté, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Health, Guinea, and Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Director of Public Health, Ghana Health Service. Also on hand to answer questions were Dr Richard Mihigo, Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Nsenga Ngoy, Emergency Response Programme Manager, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, Regional Virologist, WHO Regional Office for Africa.