VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
THE outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed over 25 lives, raising the concern of the Zambian Government.
Measures have been taken to stop the disease from spreading to Zambia.The DRC, which shares a long border with Zambia, recently announced the outbreak of the deadly Ebola in Bikoro Province at the border with the Central African Republic.
By May 11, 2018, the disease was only in the remote, difficult- to access area of Bikoro but has now entered a “new phase” when it spread to a large city of Wangata, one of the three health zones of Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people in Equateur Province in the north-western Congo.
A total of 45 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported, including 25 deaths. The outbreak is the ninth in four decades
Zambia as well as other countries in Africa are at medium risk, according to a classification by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The country has learnt that it is better to be prepared than to be caught unaware.
To mitigate the risk of Ebola spreading to Zambia, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has taken extra precautionary measures despite the epicentre of the Ebola disease being thousands of kilometres away.
“Disease surveillance has been escalated at all border points in the country. We have reinforce all the border posts with surveillance officers and disease intelligence and surveillance activities have been heightened,” Minister of Health Dr Chilufya said.
In addition, the provincial, national and district teams that were trained in Ebola response have been re-activated.
Designated places where isolation would potentially be done if a case is suspected have been identified, while response activities have also been put in place.
Dr Chilufya said the multi-sectoral plan of action at national level that was made during the cholera outbreak has been recirculated to all line ministries for necessary action in line with the Health in All Policy.
He said the geographical location of the epicentre of the disease in DRC is on the border with the Central African Republic.
This is a remote area, a place which is not only remote but very difficult to access, making the risk assessment for Zambia very low.
This has, however, not stopped Government from putting in place precautionary measures to ensure public health security in line with international guidelines.
Further, the ministry has in stock adequate protective equipment from what was purchased during the cholera outbreak.
“Working through cabinet office, a committee of permanent secretaries will be resuscitated,” Dr Chilufya said.
According to WHO, the Ebola virus disease is caused by one of the five Ebola viruses, which most commonly affects people and primates such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees.
On average, about 50 percent of people who become ill with Ebola die. The Ebola virus disease has no cure, but supportive care in a hospital setting can increase a patient’s chance for survival.
WHO will be carrying out further risk assessment in DRC and will be sending teams to all the nine neighbours of the Congo in order to identify gaps, assess capacity and also map resources and see what resources are required and where.
“I want to reassure the nation again that Zambia is at low risk for the spread of the Ebola disease for the main reason that the epicentre is situated in the remotest part of the Congo relative to where we are,” Dr Chilufya says.
And at the international level, the European Union has pledged US$1.9 million to WHO and DRC.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that the DRC launched an Ebola vaccination programme on Monday in a bid to stop the latest outbreak of the dreaded fatal disease from spreading.
WHO put the death toll at 25, with three new cases in the country’s sprawling northwest confirmed by the country’s health minister in a statement seen Saturday.
Alarm bells sounded last week after the outbreak, previously reported in a remote rural area of the country, notched up its first confirmed case in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million.
The first wave of immunisations targets healthcare staff in the northwest who have had direct or indirect contact with ill patients, the Congolese government said.
Among them are Hilaire Manzibe, a doctor at Wangata Reference Hospital in the city, who described how he treated a patient on May 1 who arrived from Bikoro, the epicentre of the current outbreak, with symptoms of fever and vomiting.
But the patient’s family refused treatment and instead returned home to administer traditional medicine — a cultural hurdle that was one of the largest obstacles to overcome in the last outbreak which began in 2014.
More than a week later he returned, “the patient showed all the signs of the fever that has hit Bikoro,” Manzibe said.
An isolation ward was prepared, but he succumbed to the fever.
“The patient was in contact with our receptionists, went to the doctor for a consultation and then was in my hands,” explained nurse Julie Lobali, who would also receive a vaccination on Monday.
WHO has dispatched 35 immunisation experts, including 16 mobilised during the last deadly outbreak in West Africa which began in 2013. The rest of the team is made up of newly trained Congolese staff.
Around 600 vaccinations are to be administered.
Donors had promised 300,000 doses of the vaccine, a government spokesman said, of which around 5,400 have already been received.
On Saturday, Health Minister Oly Ilungao said three new cases were confirmed in Mbandaka.
“In total, 43 cases of haemorrhagic fever have been flagged in the region of which 17 are confirmed, 21 are probable and five are suspected cases,” he said.
In Geneva, WHO said 45 cases had been recorded, 14 of which have been confirmed by lab tests.
WHO on Friday said the latest Ebola outbreak did not warrant being labelled an emergency of “international concern”.
The government announced the outbreak of the deadly virus in north-western Equateur province on May 8.
Ebola is both lethal and highly contagious, which makes it difficult to contain — especially in urban environments where people are mobile and come into more contact with others.
It is notorious for its high fatality rate and extreme symptoms, which can include internal and external bleeding.
The current outbreak — the ninth to hit the DRC since Ebola was identified in 1976 — involves the same strain of the virus that struck three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an international panic. It went on to kill more than 11,300 people in the deadliest ever Ebola epidemic.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka