NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
THE news of the resurgence of the Ebola virus in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last month sparked worry and fear among Africans who not too long ago were grappling with
the disastrous effects of the disease that had ravaged four countries in West Africa.
The recent outbreak in the DRC was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) following the death of three people while another six were suspected to be infected with the virus. Since then there have been at least 19 confirmed Ebola cases.
The DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, in a televised address last month warned that the outbreak was a “national health emergency with international significance” but urged people “not to panic”.
Following the WHO declaration, the outbreak is the eighth epidemic the DRC is facing. This gives the country the necessary experience in handling the crisis. But questions also arose regarding Zambia’s preparedness in dealing with the outbreak.
Upon the declaration of an outbreak, the Ministry of Health said it had intensified surveillance in places bordering the DRC.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Kennedy Malama appealed to the public last month to partner with the ministry, in the same way they did when Ebola broke out in some West African countries in 2015, to prevent its spread.
He urged people travelling into Zambia from DRC to ensure they comply and are screened as surveillance has been stiffened.
Minister of Health, Chitalu Chilufya has said the Ebola outbreak is a wake-up call to all African countries to make their health systems more resilient and to respond in a timely manner to the crisis.
A fortnight ago WHO donated assorted Ebola equipment to Zambia’s Ministry of Health.
Dr Chilufya has acknowledged that WHO remains a key ally in ensuring the health system is strengthened and access to health services is expanded.
He referred to the donation as “timely”, and insisted that people coming into Zambia must use designated crossing points to access the health services offered by the ministry.
The WHO donation followed closely after a donation of 14 thermography scanners from the Japanese government to the Zambian government.
The scanners have since been installed at airports and at various border posts to scan and detect infectious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Zika and Ebola.
According to Nature, the International Weekly Journal of Health Science, regulatory and ethics-review boards in DRC have approved the use of an experimental Ebola vaccine to combat an ongoing outbreak of the virus. This followed an announcement by officials on May 29.
If they decide to deploy the vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, health-care workers will offer it to those at highest risk of contracting the disease.
The UN News Centre reported that to contain the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in DRC, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided technical support to 145 volunteers of the Congolese Red Cross and community health workers to deliver life-saving information to local populations in remote areas along the Central African Republic (CAR) border.
During a recent briefing in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson, Christophe Boulierac said: “Working in close collaboration with health workers and communities was the best way to inform the public quickly about protection measures against Ebola, and to prevent propagation of the disease.”
Under the coordination of national health authorities, and in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF trained them on how to chlorinate water and disinfect homes to avoid spread of the disease, as well as on the importance of hand washing and ways to adapt local burial practices to reduce contamination risks.
In addition, a European Union-funded flight helped UNICEF send supplies and medicines to health facilities in the Likati area.
“As of 29 May, there were 19 Ebola cases, out of which two were laboratory-confirmed, four were probable and 13 suspected,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier. “Out of those 19 cases, there were four deaths, out of which only one was laboratory-confirmed and one was probable.”
The world’s worst Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in 2013 – killing more than 11,300 people and infecting an estimated 28,600 as it swept through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Thousands more survivors have been left with long-term health problems and Liberia was only declared free of active Ebola virus transmission last June.
Ebola is fatal in about 90 percent of cases and is easily spread between humans through direct contact.
It comes with symptoms like severe headache, fever, body weakness, constipation, chest pains and coughing, diarrhoea and subsequent bleeding both internally and externally, among others.