MEMORY MANINGA, Lusaka
IT’S been almost five years since a serious outbreak of the Ebola broke out in Guinea, spreading to two other West African countries, claiming
over 11,000 lives.
Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were the most hit by the disease and they recorded high mortality rates due to Ebola.
According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 28,637 cases of Ebola were reported worldwide by January 2016 and 11,315 deaths were confirmed, with the vast majority of the deaths taking place in the three countries.
Not only did the Western region suffer from loss of lives, socio-economic activities in that part of Africa were also disrupted.
It was only on June 9 last year that the disease was declared officially over.
Understandably, news of the disease breaking out in the neighbouring country, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has put the Zambian government on high alert to avoid a repeat of the West African epidemic.
Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes bleeding both on the inside and outside of the human body.
Due to the damage it causes on the immune system and the organs, 90 percent of people infected with Ebola die of the disease.
Normally, the Ebola virus is found in wild animals such as monkeys, chimpanzees and porcupines. This is the reason why when there is an outbreak of the disease, people in the endemic regions are encouraged to ensure that game meat is thoroughly cooked, while others shun its consumption on caution.
The disease can be transmitted from an animal to a human being through contact and once that happens, infected people can pass on the disease to others through blood contact, urine or any other way of contact.
Recently the Ebola disease was detected in the DRC, a country that Zambia shares a number of border points with.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Kennedy Malama has cautioned the general public to be wary of the Ebola outbreak in the neighbouring country.
Dr Malama says Ebola is a life-threatening disease and, the fact that the DRC declared an outbreak should be taken seriously by all members of the public.
“The Ebola disease was recently detected in Congo and about four people were reported dead. It is important that as a nation, we take this report seriously and take precaution in the way we conduct ourselves,” he says.
However, it’s been almost a month since the disease was reported in the DRC without numbers of infected people escalating, a positive sign that the disease could be under control.
Medical experts say there is currently no cure for Ebola, and once a person is infected, they are given supporting treatment to make them comfortable.
Trials are, however, being undertaken to find a vaccine and the DRC is one of the countries that have since received the medication in an attempt to combat the disease.
“A person with Ebola has symptoms like those of a malaria patient, they develop a fever, headache and joint pains. Unfortunately there is no cure for Ebola at the moment, what can be done is to give the patient supportive treatment to help them feel a bit comfortable and replace the fluids they lose during the sickness,” Dr Malama says.
A Ministry of Health resident doctor, Paul Zulu, feels the general public should not panic over the outbreak of Ebola in the DRC because indications are that the disease has been contained.
Dr Zulu says it is encouraging that over 21 days have passed since a new case of Ebola was reported in DRC, adding that efforts to control the disease are still ongoing.
He said chances of Ebola spreading to Zambia are slim as the disease was detected in a forestry area known as Likati, about 1,400km north-east of Kinshasa.
“Measures have been put in place nationwide to prevent the disease from spreading to Zambia, but it is the responsibility of everyone in the country to acquire as much information as possible to avoid coming into contact with the virus,” Dr Zulu said.
Government has stepped up preparedness, surveillance and response activities around the country in an effort to prevent an outbreak of Ebola in Zambia.
The University of Zambia Veterinary Laboratory has been equipped with diagnostic equipment that can confirm or rule out the disease in suspected patients.
Isolation facilities have also been identified nationwide while health practitioners are receiving training on how to handle the disease.
In addition, protective clothing for health personnel have been procured in case they have to handle suspected Ebola cases.
And with support from the Japanese government, the Zambian government procured 14 scanners recently to screen people for the deadly virus at ports of entry.
The scanners have since been placed at strategic entry points including Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, Nakonde and Kasumbalesa border posts.
“We cannot say that we are 100 percent ready, but we have placed scanners at various entry points to screen Ebola and we also have a facility in the country that can determine if a patient is suffering from Ebola or not.
“Our health personnel are also receiving re-orientation on how to treat Ebola, and the things needed for use to treat the disease are all in place,” Dr Malama says.