Ebola Alert: World jittery as virus rages
Lusaka – The death of close to 1 000 people from Ebola in West Africa since February this year serves as a serious wake up call for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states to mitigate further infections and subsequent calamities.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has staked US$200 million to mitigate the disease, as it seeks to find a cure for the epidemic that is fast-spreading to several countries on the continent and beyond, and has declared the disease an international health emergency.
Sounding a clarion call for global “solidarity” in the fight to stop the spread of the virus, with a state of emergency already been declared in Sierra Leone and Liberia, WHO director-general, Margaret Chan, expressed concern over the potential of the disease to spread.
Chan has warned the global community against complacency and has called on countries outside the Ebola zone to be on the alert, as the Ebola-hit countries do not have the capacity to manage the outbreak alone.
The Ebola alert is the third international health alert in 10 years.
The first was in 2008 when WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern over the H1N1 (swine flu) and the second was the ongoing polio outbreak in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, to which health experts called for concerted efforts to deal with the plagues.
Recent WHO estimates indicate that more than 900 people have died of Ebola ‑ the worst since the virus was first identified in the 1970s.
It is now feared that the outbreak might spread beyond the affected borders and afflict the entire Africa and ultimately affect continental economic growth.
But SADC is on high alert with member states undertaking to accelerate the responses should the Ebola virus break out in the region.
On August 6, health ministers met for an emergency meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, to deliberate on their preparedness and develop a common approach in responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
During the meeting, Chairperson of the SADC Health Ministers and Malawi Health Minister, Dr Jean Kalilani, urged his counterparts to ensure that appropriate executive and political leadership takes the lead in all efforts to manage the disease.
She emphasised that it is important, as leaders, to lead the awareness campaign to dispel myths and restore calm.
The Malawi health minister also informed the meeting that no Ebola case has been reported in Southern Africa so far. “It is critical that the region put in place preventive measures to ensure that there is no Ebola outbreak,” she urged.
SADC Heads of States and Government further need to facilitate multi-sectoral response interventions and co-ordination required to cope with the pandemic.
The health ministers resolved to mobilise communities, including religious and political leaders, to work together to increase awareness and understanding of the Ebola situation by improving information dissemination and communication in matters related to the epidemic.
This will also involve organising cross-border consultations to facilitate exchange of information and agreeing on joint collaborative actions, as some of the stop-gap measures.
The ministers tasked South Africa to send experts from its National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to take care of the mobile laboratory operations in the affected countries.
The mobile laboratory capacity consists of diagnostic equipment, consumables and protective gear to allow people to conduct diagnosis.
The laboratory is also designed to be deployed to remote areas across the region.
According to medical experts, the Ebola virus does not spread through casual contact, but is transmitted from person to person through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person.
The disease has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.
The current theory is that the virus spreads to humans through close contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.
Ebola is an acute viral illness often characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.
This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.
Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes, experts say.