Africa’s Ebola outbreak has not run its course – UN envoy

The worst recorded outbreak of the Ebola virus has killed more than 11 000 people across West Africa since late 2013, but had abated in recent months. A new flare-up in Liberia is seen as a setback in the fight against it.

“The battle can be won, but it requires sustained effort, very careful negotiation with communities and perfection in follow-up of everybody who has been a contact,” David Nabarro, a medical doctor who is organising the United Nations’ response to Ebola, told a media briefing in Cape Town.

He said under normal circumstances an infection rate of 30 people a week would be considered “a major, major outbreak”.

“Probably about one third of these people are not coming from the contact list, which means they are surprise cases, and that’s a big worry,” Nabarro told a conference organised by the World Health Organisation.

Infection rates are down from the peak of the crisis. But Liberia reported a 17-year-old boy tested positive for the virus on June 30 – almost two months after the country was declared free of Ebola.

Liberia, the country worst hit by the outbreak, had been hailed as an example for neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, which are also struggling to stop the spread of the disease.

Communities forgetting ‘avoid body contact’ rule
Olawale Maiyegun, social affairs director at the African Union Commission, said it seemed communities were forgetting a key “ABC” or “avoid body contact” rule and becoming complacent.

“Where is the ABC rule? I saw people dancing together, I was alarmed in (Sierra Leone’s capital) Freetown,” Maiyegun told journalists at the same briefing.

The Ebola outbreak has galvanised a global response. Last week donor countries pledged another $3.4-billion in addition to $1.8-billion of unspent money in an effort to eradicate a disease that has wreaked economic and social havoc. – Reuters

Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) or Doctors Without Border, released a statement saying that although Ebola has faded from the news headlines, the epidemic in West Africa continues to claim lives.   

Infection rates are indeed down from the peak of the crisis last year and progress has been made in the fight against Ebola. Ongoing infections in the capitals Freetown and Conakry, and deaths from Ebola still found too late in the community, remain of high concern. Getting the numbers of cases from hundreds to 30 per week took considerable time and massive resources from all involved. 

However, getting from 30 cases to zero will require the most meticulous, difficult work of all, said the statement.  

Last week, MSF International President Dr Joanne Liu declared: “We have seen so many reports calling for change, with everyone focused on how to improve future responses to outbreaks and meanwhile, with new Ebola cases each week in the region, we still don`t have the current epidemic under control. On Ebola, we went from global indifference, to global fear, to global response and now to global fatigue. We must finish the job.” – Reuters, MSF

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Wendell Roelf
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