SA government satisfied with measures to prevent Ebola

South Africa has increased surveillance measures such as temperature screenings at all ports of entry into the country. (AFP)

South Africa has increased surveillance measures such as temperature screenings at all ports of entry into the country. (AFP)

With Ebola’s infection rate breaching the 10 000-person mark, South Africa’s health ministry remains confident that the country will be able to deal with any potential cases. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on Saturday that confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola had hit 10 141 across eight affected countries, including the United States and Spain. The death toll has reached 4 922, according to the WHO.

The disease, which has no cure, is spread through bodily fluids, including sweat and blood. 

The most recent death is that of a two-year-old girl who travelled from the Guinean district of Kissidougou with her grandmother to the city of Kayes in western Mali. Guinea, along with its West African neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone, is at the epicentre of the epidemic. 

The toddler died in hospital in Kayes on Friday, according to the WHO.
It said it has already traced 43 people who were in contact with the child, 10 of whom were healthcare workers. Efforts to trace further contacts were “ongoing”.

Satisfied with preventative measures
In the face of the worsening outbreak, health ministry spokesperson Joe Maila told the Mail & Guardian that the state was satisfied with the measures taken not only to prevent the spread of the disease into South Africa, but also to contain it in the event of a reported case. 

The state has set up a national response team, as well as 11 treatment units in hospitals in each province. 

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe announced on Thursday that South Africa had increased surveillance at all ports of entry. The government has instituted measures such as temperature screenings to detect symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fevers, particularly Ebola.

The state set aside R32.6-million last week through the medium-term adjustment budget for the “introduction of Ebola control and prevention measures in South Africa, and for the deployment of mobile laboratories, experts, training and technical support to affected countries”. 

The health ministry welcomed the money. “It’s the money government was able to give us and we are grateful,” Maila said. 

It is far below the R250-million the department of health seeks to raise through its Ebola Response Fund, aimed at assisting the worst afflicted West African nations. Government has extended appeals to the private sector to donate money to the fund. 

Containing the spread
Despite indications that the outbreak is worsening in West Africa, Senegal and Nigeria have managed to contain its spread. The WHO declared them free of Ebola when neither nation had detected a new case of the virus in 42 days. 

But Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Wilmot James was “not convinced” that all the hospitals identified as treatment centres, including Pelonomi Regional Hospital in Bloemfontein, were prepared for a case of Ebola.

The national department was “certainly working hard to get them ready”, James said, but it remained to be seen if the provincial departments of health would succeed. 

Delivery of health services is a competency of provincial governments, a number of which have patchy records of delivering adequate health services to the public. 

There was not a strong scientific case that temperature screening at a country’s ports of entry worked, said James. 

Physicians or highly trained nurses needed to be at screening points to better identify potential cases of Ebola. 

“It has to be properly staffed,” said James. And although government had given assurances that screening was in place, it was not yet clear how these were working. 

The budgetary allocation may be sufficient to meet local needs, said James. 

But it was “nowhere near enough” to address the stated aims of lending technical support to affected countries to help them contain the disease.

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