The World Health Organization (WHO) as part of efforts to prevent a further spread of the Ebola virus within the shortest possible time, has urged ECOWAS countries to develop a comprehensive inter-country operational response plan that would enable them to collectively tackle the crisis effectively.
The WHO on June 27, warned countries in the sub-region to prepare for the possible arrival of travellers infected with the deadly virus from any of the three countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) which have been saddled with the deadly Ebola viral epidemic since March 2014.
Dr Pierre Formenty, WHO medical officer at a press conference in Geneva said health officials in Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea Bissau should be on the guard. “People are just travelling by roads, and roads exist in all West Africa. There are roads going to Bamako, going to Abidjan, going to Dakar. And of course there is some control but we all know that all these borders are quite porous in fact, so we have to be careful there and we need to be prepared, we need to be prepared.”
Dr Formenty, however, said the WHO is not considering recommending travel restrictions, adding that such measures would be too drastic. The UN agency favors greater dialogue with affected family members and villages, he added.
So far, the outbreak, which is the largest in terms of casualties and geographical coverage, has claimed almost 400 lives in the three countries, with more than 600 recorded cases.
Ebola disease—also called Ebola hemorrhagic fever or Ebola fever—is a rare and often fatal illness that humans and nonhuman primates such as fruit bats, monkeys and gorillas can contract, of which fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus.
Over the years, there have been several outbreaks of Ebola fever in Africa, but the current situation in West Africa has left the WHO and its partners struggling for months to contain it.
The virus, which was named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where it was first discovered, has five subtypes, which include Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast, Ebola-Bundibugyo and Ebola-Reston.
All of these subtypes are found in Africa, except for Ebola-Reston, which is found in the Philippines. The Ebola-Reston virus is also the only subtype that will not cause illness in humans—it only affects animals.
The disease Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, has no cure or vaccine with fatality rates of up to 90 per cent, and is spread through direct contact with body fluids such as blood, saliva, faeces, urine, semen or vomit of an infected animal or human.
According to the WHO, the Ebola virus can also be spread through handling a sick or dead human or animal that has been infected.
The initial symptoms of Ebola disease resemble those of a common flu infection such as fever, headache, sore throat, joint and muscle pains and weakness. However, as the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe.
In its late-stage, symptoms of Ebola virus may include vomiting, diarrhea, redness in the eyes, swelling of the genitals, internal and external bleeding and a bleeding rash over the entire body. Some patients may have blood coming from their eyes, nose, mouth, ears, or rectum.
WHO, the Global Alert and Response Network, and its partners are providing guidance and support and have deployed teams of 150 experts to West African countries and to the Organisation’s African Regional Office in Brazzaville, Congo.
Recognizing that a coordinated regional response is essential, WHO is convening leading health authorities from the affected countries in Accra (Ghana) from July 2 to 3, to agree on a comprehensive operational response to control the Ebola outbreak.
Countries in the sub-region are working to bring supportive care to the ill, inform affected communities of recommended practices, trace contacts of infected patients, control infections in health care settings, and adopt any other measures that may be necessary to control the outbreak.
The WHO admits that despite their progress in implementing preventive and control measures, health authorities still face challenges in curbing the spread of Ebola. According to Dr Badu Sakordie, Head of Disease Surveillance of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), all eight suspected cases of the Ebola Virus Disease in Ghana have proved negative, but are still being monitored, to ensure that nothing is left to chance.
He explained that a National Technical Coordinating Committee meeting has developed comprehensive preparedness and response plans for Ebola, and is working with WHO Country Representative for technical support and advice.
The GHS has so far distributed the WHO fact Sheet on Ebola, and a surveillance and interim Infection Control Recommendations to all Regional Directors of Health Services, in addition to sending alert messages to regions, districts and health facilities.
Furthermore, as part of efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak, it is important that the media in Ghana and the sub-region at large continue to provide public education to raise awareness of the risk factors of Ebola infection, and the protective measures individuals can take to prevent and reduce human infection and death. GNA