Editor's Comment

Let’s always be on our guard

FILE: MINISTER of Health Chitalu Chilufya commissions a thermographic scanner for detecting people with Ebola at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka. PICTURE: CHANDA MWENYA

ZAMBIA was yesterday alarmed and gripped with fear by media reports that a case of suspected Ebola had been officially recorded at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital in Lusaka.
Given the deadliness of Ebola, the fear that gripped the country, especially Lusaka, is justified, especially that we are still recovering from the traumatic experience caused by the outbreak of cholera in October last year.
We remember how cholera claimed scores of lives and affected various aspects of life for months.
While Zambia has never had an outbreak of Ebola, reports from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where the killer disease claimed hundreds of lives are enough to give a picture of how devastating the disease can be.
A few months ago when Ebola broke out in DRC, Zambia was among 10 African countries declared at risk of the outbreak by the World Health Organisation.
While we are comforted and relieved that the suspected Ebola case has turned out to be another blood infection, this is certainly a call to uphold our guard against such deadly outbreaks.
Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya announced during a press briefing yesterday that further medical investigations into the suspected Ebola case revealed that it was just a blood infection.
The fact that the suspected Ebola case is not what it was feared to be is no reason for putting our guard down and go to sleep.
The suspected case is just a reminder that the unthinkable can happen at the least expected time. This includes an outbreak of the deadly Ebola.
It is therefore important to always stay alert and prepared for any such eventualities.
After Ebola broke out in West Africa and DRC, Government put in place measures to prevent the disease from spreading to the country.
Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI), a public centre that addresses major public health concerns and seeks to improve health for Zambians in collaboration with the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), embarked on a sensitisation campaign on Ebola through different mediums.
A committee of permanent secretaries (PS) chaired by the Secretary to the Cabinet was also created for the purpose of strategising and ensuring that Zambia is ready to respond to a possible Ebola outbreak.
The anti-Ebola surveillance system across the country and screening programmes at ports of entry into the country were also strengthened.
ZNPHI went on to train people on how to respond to any public health emergency.
Government also procured protective clothing in readiness for any emergency.
Such measures are indeed commendable and must be upheld.
The surveillance system across the country and screening programmes at entry points should at no point be relaxed. This is for obvious reasons that with continued movements of people, the risk of bringing Ebola and indeed other such diseases is high.
Even when there is no outbreak in neighbouring countries, our guard should always be up because every movement is a risk.
While it is commendable that medical experts have demonstrated a high level of alertness in the suspected Ebola case, prevention is always better than cure.
As a country we need to ensure that we eliminate any possible chances of deadly outbreaks.
This also applies to cholera. Zambia should maintain high levels of hygiene to prevent any further outbreak of the epidemic.
It is a pity that despite having a statutory instrument that prohibits street vending many traders have continued to litter the streets.
It is a known fact that street vending and lack of supporting sanitation infrastructure contributed largely to the outbreak of cholera.
The responsibility to prevent outbreak of such epidemics does not only rest on Government but on every citizen too.
As rightly observed by Dr Chilufya, members of the public also have a role to play in the prevention of such epidemics by reporting any suspicious symptoms to health facilities in good time.
In this case Government and other stakeholders, including the media should not relent in sensitising the public on deadly epidemics such as Ebola.
The public need to be aware that fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and bleeding or bruising could signal Ebola infection for them to raise alarm promptly.
The case at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital may not be Ebola, but it is certainly a strong reminder to always be on alert as individuals, communities and the nation as a whole.

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