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Ebola virus; African bushmeat market. Photo supplied

WHO: Ebola outbreak now a ‘global health emergency’

The World Health Organisation says it is time for the world to take notice of this epidemic. A global health emergency has only been declared four times in the past.

Published: July 18, 2019, 9:13 am

    It is an exceptional measure taken by the WHO regarding the Ebola outbreak, which has claimed nearly 1 700 lives since last summer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    Declared a “global health emergency” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the agency nevertheless recommended that the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours remain open.

    The WHO CEO, quoted by LCI, said at a press conference that it was “time for the world to take note” of this outbreak.

    A global health emergency has been declared only four times by the WHO, in particular in 2014 for the Ebola virus which had then resulted in more than 11 300 deaths in three countries of West Africa.

    But efforts to stop the spread of the disease are challenging in communities where many people consider Ebola to be witchcraft.

    The organisation’s emergency committee says that “it is crucial that states do not use the global emergency status as an excuse to impose trade and travel restrictions that would have a negative impact on health response and the life of the population in the region”.

    The agency made the decision after the discovery of a deadly case of the epidemic in Goma, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The Ebola virus spreads between individuals either through body fluids (blood, saliva, urine, sperm) or through contaminated objects. The signs presented by the patients, are fever, great tiredness, muscular pains or headaches. This is accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting and rash.

    It is the tenth epidemic of the virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1946 and the second most serious in the history of Ebola.

    The transmission of highly variable retrovirus chains causes zoonotic diseases and thus outbreaks of the Ebola virus in the Congo Basin and in Gabon have been associated with the butchering of apes and consumption of their meat, called “bushmeat“.

    Hunters in Central Africa infected with the human T-lymphotropic virus were closely exposed to wild primates. Once the Ebola virus is introduced into a human recipient, it replicates at very high concentrations in almost all organs and tissues, contributing to its deadliness.

    Dr Pierre Rollin, an Ebola expert with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the virus gets killed if the meat is well-cooked, smoked or dried. The people at greatest risk are therefore hunters and butchers who process the meat, he told VOA News.

    Last year, the Congo’s Health Minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, said however there would be no ban on sales of bushmeat since bushmeat is not the primary way for the Ebola virus to spread. Instead, the government would be focusing on good hygiene practices such as hand-washing, he said.

    “Ebola is very far away,” Defede Mbale, immigration chief at the capital’s port of Maluku, told VOA.

    Pointing to a poster on safe Ebola practices in his office, he said the government has provided extra resources to patrol the bushmeat river trade and take people’s temperatures as they arrive by boats, checking for fevers. He said he was not worried.

    “We have our customs and they won’t change because of Ebola,” he said. “We’ll eat all foods.”

    One major Nigerian newspaper published a report about the widespread view that eating dog meat was a healthy alternative to bush meat. Dog meat was implicated in a June 2015 Liberian outbreak of Ebola, where three villagers who had tested positive for the disease had shared a meal of dog meat.

    Previous outbreaks in Uganda occurred in 2000 (425 cases with 224 deaths), 2007 (149 cases with 37 deaths), and 2011-2012 (25 with 21 cases). The Ugandan Ministry of Health together with the WHO have been taking all the necessary measures to contain the outbreak, including a ban on mass gatherings, market days and prayers in areas at risk.

    Rwanda and South Sudan have also been on high alert since the ongoing outbreak of Ebola was officially declared on 01 August 2018 in the DRC.

    Symptoms of infection will emerge 21 days after a person has been in contact with the virus, said Janusz Paweska, Head of the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases, at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

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