Aid Agencies Respond to New Ebola Outbreak in Guinea

The World Health Organization and other aid agencies are moving quickly to try to gain control over a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Guinea. Guinea is one of three countries that was affected by the 2014 West African outbreak, the largest in history.

The outbreak in Guinea was detected February 14, just one week after a new outbreak of Ebola was identified in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The two outbreaks are unrelated, but the World Health Organization says both face similar challenges and both can benefit from new treatments and recent experiences.

The WHO reports seven family members who attended a burial ceremony in the town of Goueke, Guinea, were infected with the virus and three have since died.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris says 115 contacts have been identified and the majority have been traced.

“We are confident with the experience and expertise built during the previous outbreak that the health team in Guinea are on the move to quickly trace the cause of the virus and curb further infections. But it certainly will be a big job. And WHO is supporting the Guinean authorities to set up testing, contact tracing, treatment structures and to bring the overall response to full speed,” said Harris.

Harris says WHO offices in surrounding countries have been contacted and preparedness plans are being put in place.

In New York, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Mark Lowcock, announced an initial rapid allocation of $15 million from the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to go to the outbreaks in both Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The funding will help both countries respond to the outbreak and support neighboring countries to prepare,” Lowcock said. “Detailed allocation [decisions] will be made in the next few days as we receive more details about specific requirements and needs on the ground.”

The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak began in Guinea and quickly spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. By the time the epidemic ended in 2016, 28,000 people had been infected with the disease and more than 11,000 had died.

Harris says many lessons have been learned from previous outbreaks to keep the virus from spreading. She says it is important to have a strategic response plan, get it into action early and to coordinate all aspects of the operation.

“What is critical is decentralizing the operations to the lowest levels, making sure your operations are with the community now and that the community owns the operations — that your work is community centered and that you work with the community. A one size fits all approach to community engagement is not effective,” she said.

Turning to the other Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization has confirmed four cases, including two deaths in the city of Butembo in DRC’s North Kivu province. The WHO reports nearly 300 contacts have been identified and tracing is under way.

Dr. Nsenga Ngoy, program manager for emergency response at the WHO regional office for Africa, told VOA’s English to Africa service that the outbreak in DRC is connected to a previous outbreak in the region that lasted for almost two years and was declared ended in June 2020.

“So …that's why we are saying this is a resurgence. This is not a new outbreak in in DRC,” Ngoy said. By contrast the new cases in Guinea are “not related to the outbreak we had five years ago, but this is apparently a new outbreak in Guinea.”

But in both countries, Ngoy said, the goal is the same: “We need to win over the community to work with us and to be part of the response and to abide by what we call public health measures including at all cost avoid getting in touch with body fluids of a person who is sick or who has contracted Ebola.

“And obviously the other measures including thankfully now we have a vaccine, include vaccination of those contacts of the person who have been in contact with the sick person.”

Source: Voice of America