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article imageWorld Health Organization's $100 million offensive against Ebola

By Robert Myles     Aug 1, 2014 in Health
Conakry - As the worst ever outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus unfolds across a swathe of countries in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to reveal a $100 million package of measures to combat the virus.
World Health Organization representatives along with those from nations affected by the Ebola virus are scheduled to meet today, Friday, in Guinea to launch the major health offensive aimed at bringing this latest outbreak under control.
The initiative is the WHO’s costliest ever and forms part of a stepped-up campaign at international, regional and national level to fight the killer virus that is currently affecting areas of Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ebola outbreak has killed at least 729 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March, with more than 1323 cases confirmed or suspected. That makes it the worst instance of the Ebola virus on record. Previous outbreaks have claimed the lives of 2,300 people in total.
The crisis is touching not just West African nations but countries all over the world at various stages of implementing measures to screen travelers from West Africa.
“The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level, and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.
“The countries have identified what they need, and WHO is reaching out to the international community to drive the response plan forward.”
The initiative, named the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan in West Africa, calls for more medical personnel to be deployed in the field in affected countries where local medical resources and treatment facilities are in danger of being overwhelmed by the Ebola outbreak. Already, hundreds of international aid workers, with over 120 WHO staff in addition, are reinforcing national and regional response efforts.
The skills presently most lacking in affected countries are those of clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers.
The WHO plan also touches on the importance of increasing preparedness to combat the virus in countries neighboring those most affected and strengthen the fight against Ebola globally.
Major aspects of the new Ebola plan involve drawing on lessons learnt from previous outbreaks and stopping transmission of the virus in affected countries by scaling up effective, evidence-based outbreak control measures. Neighboring countries considered to be at risk would also see their preparedness beefed up by strengthening readiness and response measures.
Part of the WHO’s plan involves education of local communities so that people understand how to avoid infection and the steps that should be taken if anyone suspects they’ve come in contact with the virus.
One of the difficulties the WHO faces has faced is ensuring that health workers themselves, a scarce resource in many of the affected countries, are protected from contracting the disease. Steps will be taken to improve such protection.
Border security is also an issue. Many of the countries in West Africa have relatively porous borders which could contribute to spread of Ebola. The new initiative also emphasizes the importance of surveillance in such border areas.
Ebola can be difficult to detect in its initial phase since the symptoms—headaches, fever and nausea—are common to any number of water-borne diseases rife in West Africa.
What makes Ebola so feared, however, is its mortality rate, the manner of death and the fact that, as yet, there is no known cure or vaccine. Only 10 percent of those who contract the virus survive. Death from the virus, which causes a haemorrhagic fever in its later stage, is horrific. Victims bleed to death internally, exhibited by bleeding from external orifices such as the eyes, mouth and anus.
If there can be said to a plus point with Ebola, it is that the cause of death can be easily established with virtual certainty from visual observations of the victim, thus obviating any delay that a post mortem might entail.
In its natural state, Ebola resides in local fruit bat populations but every so often, as in the current outbreak, it makes the species leap to humans. But once contracted by a human, Ebola, not being an airborne virus doesn’t spread easily. It can be contagious, however, if someone is unfortunate enough to come into contact with infected body fluids such as blood or vomit.
Although the death rate from Ebola in areas where health precautions are scant can be as high as 90 percent, aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières has reported a degree of success in reducing the fatality rate. Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, Tim Jagatic, a Canadian doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières, stressed that education was key in helping prevent the virus.
Describing local medical facilities in an area of Sierra Leone, he said, “The 'hospital’ is a group of tents in a clearing in the jungle, away from the population to reduce the risk.
“It’s a low-resource setting, just doing basic medicine: hydration, nutrition, fever control, promoting hygiene.”
By just concentrating on the basics, however, Jagatic’s team was able to reduce the mortality rate from Ebola to less than 60 percent. Part of his job was addressing problems of poor disease control whilst earning trust.
“What we’re doing is gaining trust, dispelling rumors—showing that we’re not here to steal organs or take blood, we’re providing food, providing medicine,” he said.
Promoting basic hygiene with the local populace to help prevent a future outbreak means, added Jagatic: “They go away knowing to wash their hands, and they tell their families.”
More about Ebola virus, ebola outbreak, World health organization, Who, deadly diseases
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