Zambia wary of ebola outbreak in DRC

By Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka – Zambia has installed 14 thermography scanners at major entry points, including airports and border posts, as a precaution against possible infections of among other diseases, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Zika virus and Ebola and, amid reports of ebola resurging in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Recent reports indicate a recurrence of ebola and other respiratory diseases in DRC, prompting Zambia to take precautions. The scans have been installed at airports and other entry points to try and monitor the diseases.

Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said the scanners donated by the government of Japan were installed after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an outbreak of ebola in some parts of the DRC.

“The scanners will help government detect infectious diseases like zika, ebola and SARS from travellers entering the country,” said Chilufya, while cautioning Zambians to practice personal hygiene and look out for possible symptoms of the said disease which he described as fatal.

The WHO has reported possible outbreaks of ebola and other diseases, including SARS among passengers entering Zambia with ebola having claimed several lives in the neighbouring country.  Chilufya described the ebola outbreak as a wake-up call to all African countries to make their health systems more resilient and to respond in a timely manner to the crisis.

Recently, WHO donated assorted Ebola equipment to Zambia with Chilufya acknowledging that the UN health agency was a key ally in ensuring the health system is strengthened and access to health services is expanded while describing the donation as timely.

News of the resurgence of the ebola virus in the DRC last month sparked fears among Africans who not too long ago were grappling with the disastrous effects of the disease that ravaged four countries in West Africa in 2015.

WHO revealed that three people have already died from the disease. Since last month, there have been at least 19 confirmed ebola cases, according to DRC’s health minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga.

In a televised address, Kalenga has warned that the outbreak was a “national health emergency with international significance” while urging the Congolese “not to panic”.

The recent outbreak is the eighth epidemic to be recorded in DRC, giving the country the necessary experience in handling the crisis. However, authorities in Zambia are not taking chances, hence the installation of scanners to try avert Ebola outbreak.

Health ministry spokesperson Kennedy Malama said the government has intensified surveillance in places bordering the DRC.

Malama has appealed to people travelling into Zambia from DRC to ensure they comply with measures in place and that they are screened.

Zambia has since directed all people entering the country to use designated entry points to access the health services offered by the government as precaution.

During a recent briefing in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson, Christophe Boulierac,  said: “Working in close collaboration with health workers and communities was the best way to inform the public quickly about protection measures against ebola, and to prevent propagation of the disease.”

Under the coordination of national health authorities, and in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF trained them on how to chlorinate water and disinfect homes to avoid the spread of the disease, as well as on the importance of hand washing and ways to adapt local burial practices to reduce contamination risks.

In addition, a European Union-funded flight helped UNICEF send supplies and medicines to health facilities in the Likati area.

According to data, world’s worst ebola outbreak began in West Africa in 2013  killed more than 11,300 people and infected an estimated 28,600 as it swept through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Thousands more survivors have been left with long-term health problems and Liberia was only declared free of active ebola virus transmission last June.

Ebola is fatal in about 90 percent of cases and is easily spread between humans through direct contact. It comes with symptoms like severe headache, fever, body weakness, constipation, chest pains and coughing, diarrhoea and subsequent bleeding both internally and externally, among others.

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