Fwd: Fear and ignorance aid spread of Ebola

Skip to first unread message

Chifu wa Malindi

Jun 11, 2014, 5:43:20 PM6/11/14
to aids-...@googlegroups.com, chifu
Fear and ignorance aid spread of Ebola

DAKAR, 11 June 2014 (IRIN) - An Ebola outbreak in West Africa that
appeared to be winding down has flared up again, with officials
blaming the resurgence on ignorance and a lack of experience in
handling the virus.

Pierre Formenty, a technical officer at World Health Organization
(WHO), who specialises in Ebola, used a recent news conference in
Geneva to explain the fresh outbreaks. Pormenty warned that Ebola was
turning up in West African countries that had never witnessed Ebola
before and did not have established mechanisms for dealing with it.

The view amongst experts in recent weeks had been that the outbreak in
West Africa, which likely began in December but was first identified
in March, was beginning to slow. There had not been a new confirmed
case in Liberia since early April, for instance.

Hopes fade for an early end to outbreak

But that optimism faded in late May. The virus began to spread to new
areas of Guinea, where over 200 Ebola-related deaths have now been
confirmed. Nine deaths have been reported in Liberia and 12 in Sierra
Leone, with health officials warning of the worst problems being
concentrated in the eastern region of Kailahun. The majority of the
430 plus suspected or confirmed cases have been in the forest-covered
regions of south-eastern Guinea, where the outbreak was first

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), previously known as Ebola Haemorrhagic
Fever (EHF) Ebola has typically struck at east or central African
countries. The most serious outbreaks have been in Uganda, the
Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with South
Sudan and Gabon also affected. According to WHO statistics, between
1976 and 2012, EVD caused around 1,600 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

West Africa gets to know Ebola

The one recorded instance of an EVD-like condition occurring in West
Africa was in Côte d'Ivoire when a female ethologist was infected
while conducting a necropsy on a wild chimpanzee. The ethologist
developed Ebola-like symptoms and was evacuated to Switzerland, but

Formenty said there have probably been other outbreaks of Ebola in
West Africa before, but the disease was never identified as such. He
says the lack of experience is telling. "I think the fact it's the
first time that this is happening in West Africa works against us
because the people don't really understand how this epidemic can
continue for a long time if everyone doesn't pitch in."

Deficiencies in response

Antoine Gauge, the deputy director of emergencies for Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF) in Geneva, said the lack of familiarity with Ebola in
West Africa led to a substantial delay in alerting the international
community to a possible outbreak. That gave the disease time to spread
undetected for months, making stopping its transmission much more

MSF is helping authorities in all three countries to combat the Ebola
outbreak. The organization has about 200 people working on Ebola and
has sent around 60 tons of equipment to the region.

But Gauge warns that health workers are still playing catch-up, trying
to make up ground after this late start.

Gauge contrasts this with Congo, where health authorities have known
about Ebola for over 30 years.

Lessons from Congo

"A suspected case in Congo at a health centre, or a death where the
deceased had the symptoms, particularly bleeding, etc, in those cases
there is immediately an alert," Gauge explained.

"The health centre contacts the Health Ministry on the regional level
and we're also informed. That happens in a couple of days. In West
Africa, there isn't that knowledge".

Instead, the virus circulated for months without anyone testing for
Ebola, which has similar symptoms to other haemorrhagic fevers that
are common in West Africa.

Ebola is highly contagious and up to 90 percent fatal. There is no
vaccine and, while treatment can improve the chances of survival of
those infected, there is no cure.

There are, however, recommendations on how to improve prevention. For
example, the WHO's own guidelines stress the need to avoid unprotected
physical contact with Ebola patients and the need for those with
symptoms of infection to seek medical attention at the first sign of

Problems in accepting treatment

But Formenty said the current outbreak was flaring again at least
partially because families were not reporting infections to
authorities or were refusing care.

Formenty cited the example of relatives of sick people in Sierra Leone
removing their family members from an isolation unit and taking them
home, rather than seeing them moved to a hospital 90 miles away.

Medical teams need to tread carefully

But Fomenty also said that local authorities and international health
workers should be more sensitive to the difficult decisions
confronting relatives and more ready to explain why isolation might be
necessary. Formenty called for more straightforward communication,
urging medical teams engaged in contact-tracing, looking for potential
transmission of Ebola, to be more accessible, greeting villagers and
explaining their activities before embarking on the work, avoiding
misperceptions in the community that can generate mistrust.

Finding a West African solution

Daniel Bausch, director of the Emerging Infections Department at the
U.S. Naval Medical Research in Peru, pointed out that resistance to
treatment encountered in West Africa was common, and understandable,
in all Ebola outbreaks.

He stressed the terrifying impact on people knowing that that they or
their family members may have a deadly disease. Bausch also pointed
out that since the survival rate from EVD was so low, many people
mistakenly believed the treatment, not the disease, was to blame for

For Bausch, these were problems familiar from other major epidemics.
But he acknowledged that there were other complicating factors in West
Africa. For example, the wide geographic spread makes the response
more difficult, and more expensive. Each village that the disease is
linked to requires not only a medical team, but an additional team to
trace contacts. Effective tracing means keeping track of people's
cross border movements in a region where the nationals of Guinea,
Liberia and Sierra Leone move easily from country to country. But
researchers doing contact-tracing can't necessarily do the same,
sometimes having to hand over to a team on the other side of the

Despite these challenges, Formenty of the WHO said those fighting the
diseases would prevail. "We all want to control this outbreak," he
said. "We will control this outbreak, but it will take longer than



This report online: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=100195

© IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis:

[This item comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis
service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United
Nations or its Member States. Reposting or reproduction, with
attribution, for non-commercial purposes is permitted. Terms and
conditions: http://www.irinnews.org/copyright

IRIN partners: UAE, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway,
Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the IHC. More information:
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages