Ebola outbreaks in Guinea, DRC stoke new fears in Africa
NAIROBI, – New outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus disease in the two African countries of Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are sending new jitters to Africa as the continent is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the West African country Guinea, bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the west, health authorities have confirmed more than a dozen Ebola cases in the N’Zerekore administrative region, Southeast Guinea.
Adama Kaba, director of the N’Zerekore Provincial Hospital said on Monday that Ebola cases in the country had climbed to 15, including five deaths.
The National Agency for Health Security (ANSS) has linked these cases to a nurse from N’Zerekore, who fell ill with symptoms of Ebola and died on Feb. 1. A few days after the burial of the patient, some relatives started to show symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting and high fever. In Central Africa’s DRC where outbreaks of Ebola are not fresh in recent years, the health ministry again confirmed a new positive case on Feb. 7 in the eastern North Kivu Province. Only three months have passed since the country announced on Nov. 18, 2020 the end of the 11th Ebola epidemic that hit the northwestern Equateur Province.
The country’s Minister of Public Health Eteni Longondo said the new confirmed case was found in a woman farmer and wife of a survivor of the recent Ebola virus disease in the Butembo health zone in North Kivu. She began to show symptoms on Feb. 1. As of Tuesday, the North Kivu Province reported four confirmed Ebola cases in total, including one medical staff member.
Response measures have been put in place to cope with the new outbreaks. In Guinea, more than 150 people have been traced and identified as close contacts of the confirmed cases with 115 of them in N’Zerekore and 10 in the capital Conakry.
The close contacts have been put under medical observation. The N’Zerekore provincial government has suspended the local weekly market and prohibited large gatherings of people such as funerals. The health ministry will reopen multiple Ebola diagnosis and treatment centers in N’Zerekore, and dispatch two medical expert teams to isolate the affected areas and trace the source of the virus. ANSS Director Sakoba Keita meanwhile urged the public to refrain from panic, take preventive measures such as frequent hand washing and avoid contact with suspected cases, and promptly consult local health agencies if relevant symptoms appear.
In the DRC, nearly 300 close contacts of the confirmed cases have been traced. In response to the new round of Ebola risk, the Ebola Center in Butembo in North Kivu has been reopened. The country currently has in stock 10,000 doses of Ebola vaccines, and arrangements have been made for vaccination in Butembo in North Kivu Province, local media reported, citing data from the country’s Ebola response task force,
AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON ALERT
African countries, particularly those neighboring Guinea and the DRC, have been on guard following the new Ebola outbreaks. Uganda’s Ministry of Health has strengthened monitoring along its border with the DRC since last week. Health Minister Ruth Aceng said the country has heightened surveillance and preparedness and taken measures to prevent the inflow of Ebola, including intensifying risk communication, re-activation of Ebola Virus Disease district task forces, and dispatch of the rapid response to Kasese district neighboring the DRC.
The government of Sierra Leone on Sunday also activated its Health Emergency Response System following confirmed Ebola cases in neighboring Guinea, and intensified surveillance at the already closed border with Guinea. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Ministry of Health has urged the public to be alert to Ebola in Guinea and take sanitary measures. The government also said it will further limit the movement of people.
WHO, AU OFFER SUPPORT
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday expressed concern over the resurgence of Ebola in two African countries. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva that the outbreaks in Guinea and the DRC are completely unrelated. He told reporters that the WHO is working closely with health authorities in both countries and that vaccination already started on Monday in the DRC.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) of the African Union (AU) announced Sunday that it will deploy an emergency response support team of experts in Guinea to help the country fight a new Ebola outbreak. The Africa CDC will call for an emergency meeting of experts to better coordinate emergency responses in Guinea and in neighboring countries across the region, in collaboration with the West African Health Organization.
Ebola is a highly contagious hemorrhagic fever that causes a range of symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhea, generalized pain or malaise and in many cases internal and external bleeding. Mortality rates of the viral disease are extremely high, with the human fatality rate ranging from 50 percent to 89 percent, depending on viral subtype, according to the WHO.
The 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola virus outbreak, which mainly hit Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, claimed over 11,300 lives, with more than 28,600 recorded cases. The Ebola outbreak has compounded challenges to Africa in coping with health emergencies. The Africa CDC said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent reached 3,759,166 as of Tuesday, while the death toll from the disease is almost to hit 100,000.