Whether this turns out to be one poor young woman who slipped thru the net; a small flare-up with a limited impact on lives or a future cluster outbreak; perhaps we see, for the first time today, that West Africa will likely join the DRC in suffering repeated, intermittent and sporadic flare-ups of Ebola. The new norm.
When we woke this morning to the terribly sad news of a new case of deadly Ebola in Sierra Leone, it felt as if yesterday - where West African nations celebrated being Ebola free - was one, far too brief, sunny day for us all.
On hearing the news of today’s case, Mama Mayila Yansaneh said:
“This is such sad news. I am decided. I am extending my stay. Hope for Ebola Orphans is here for the long haul.”
Time 4 the African CDC....
As Liberia was declared Ebola free Dr Matshidiso Moeti commented presciently:
“Now is not the time for complacency, it is the time for strong surveillance & response systems as new Ebola flare-ups are likely to occur”
Indeed, as far back as early November, as Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free we ourselves commented:
“there's no room 4 complacency…Ebola always likely to recur periodically as it has in the DRC.”
Luckily, since November, some things have moved on with the World Health Organisation's AFRC65 committments to fast track Africa's health issues and oversee the introduction of an African Centre for Communicable Diseases (CDC.
We look forward to reading their AFRC65 progress reports when available.
Government’s Emergency Response Kicks in Quick!
Within hours of the news breaking WHO were able to confidently announce:
“The Sierra Leone government acted rapidly to respond to this new case."
Through the country’s new emergency operations centre, a joint team of local authorities, WHO and partners are investigating the origin of the case, identifying contacts and initiating control measures to prevent further transmission.”
So far, so reassuring.
A Sharper Focus
Nevertheless, it is deeply worrying that this case was not identified when the poor young lady was admitted and then discharged from hospital with Ebola symptoms and this speaks to the continuing lack of a meaningful health infrastructure. And sows the need to Fast Track Africa now.
As we brace ourselves for more “flare-ups” the case for the promised African CDC comes into even sharper focus and we join Africa Against Ebola’s call today for all stakeholders, including the private sector, Governments and NGO's to step up and fund this agency as a matter of urgency.
We Know More About Our foe
Also, since November we’ve also learnt more about the Ebola virus (with hopefully more helpful discoveries to come) so we are beginning to understand our foe better:
Ebola can remain in a man’s semen for up to a year – so it can be sexually transmitted
the Ebola virus remains in a range of different body tissues
the virus can return even after blood tests negative, as was found in a case in Liberia last year
Community guidance remains the same, no touching, no bodily fluids and wash hands often and this may be refined over time as we learn yet more about deadly Ebola.
Can We Ever Be Ebola Free?
The experience of the DRC would suggest it’s not possible to be Ebola free - at least until there has been some progress on a vaccine - and we agree with comments made today by Ricardo Echalar:
“perhaps it's time to rethink think the Ebola free declarations. Not fair to the countries. Messages matter.”
We need to be honest with each other - raising hopes about erradicating something that experience in the DRC shows can’t currently be erradicated only to dash them when another “flare up” occurs is a recipe for hopelessness.
We need to prepare to continue to deal with this in our communities and find ways to live with sporadic flare-ups as the people of the DRC have since Ebola was first discovered 40+ years ago. We need to adapt quickly to this new norm and together, we need to and deal with Ebola flare-ups quickly and efficiently when they do occur, as WHO Sierra Leone and the Government are currently demonstrating.
We need to keep heart, remain vigilant and make it easy to report suspected cases.
And we need to come together and stop stigmatising Ebola survivors, as Fatima, pictured, was when she was discharged last July.
Posters courtesy of UNICEF
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