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Ebola: West Africa’s unfinished business

19 January 2016, 13:35 Obidike Okafor, News24 Nigeria

Lagos - Don’t open the champagne bottle-yet, Ebola still lurks in the shadows, waiting to surprise unsuspecting victims.

It did not take long before the deadly virus sprung in Sierra Leone on January 14 2016; where a new case was discovered only a few hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the region Ebola-free.

The victim was believed to have recently traveled from Kambia near the border with Guinea.

Sadly, according to the WHO, the world has moved from  larger to smaller outbreaks of Ebola in West African countries;  Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the coming months due to the virus persisting in survivors after recovery.

How do these African countries handle this new season of outbreaks, which has already accounted for 11 315 deaths (the highest in almost forty years of the deadly virus existence), at a time when Ebola’s hemorrhagic cousin, Lassa fever has continued to plunder the West African coast, with Nigeria’s death toll hitting 43 as at January 15, 2016.

Faced with a growing epidemic on one hand and a persistent virus on the other, what line of defense can healthcare provide?

Presently,  scientists are confounded as to the new case of Ebola,  but  the thought that countries with predominantly  run-down, poorly staffed and ill-equipped health facilities  have been stretched thin by Ebola, are now tasked  by Lassa fever is numbing.

The gloom is just as real as the hope, and it is important to dissect all the possibilities.

Both the Lassa fever and Ebola virus can stay in some parts of survivors’ bodies for as long as nine months [or longer].

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, there have been cases of transmission of the Ebola by survivors, as well as what seems to be relapse of the disease. 

Also read:Ten quarantined in Nigeria over Ebola scare

Even though only ten cases of re-emergence have been identified out of a total of 15 000 Ebola survivors, these people may suffer high levels of stigma, shame and discrimination, and may be tempted to slip across the borders to neighboring country’s as far as Nigeria, therefore it is important to maintain adequate surveillance systems and advocacy programs for survivors in order to avoid further transmission.

Like Lassa fever, there is still a lot that remains unknown about Ebola as the symptoms are non-specific, and may vary for each case.

According to Doctors without Borders (MSF), a lot of analysis has already been done on Ebola, and it will be of vital importance in order to learn as much as possible about the disease before a next outbreak occurs, because unlike Lassa fever, Ebola has no known treatment.

Also read:Baby joy for Nigerian Ebola survivor

The vaccine for Ebola has not yet been approved for regular administration, and will be useless in a next outbreak, if pharmaceutical companies in foreign countries do not make it readily accessible to the countries where it is needed.

Above all, it is time to rebuild an already failing health care system across West Africa, so as to sustain a well-functioning surveillance and rapid response mechanism to shutdown Ebola’s unfinished business and cases of other diseases with epidemic potential like Lassa fever through funding from government and international organizations.

- News24


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