Africa has received another warning that an outbreak of the dreaded ebola virus is inevitable. This warning by the World Health Organization, WHO, is to ensure that Africa is not caught unaware anymore. Records show that 28,645 people were infected during the last Ebola disease outbreak in six countries in the West African sub-region, out of which 11,324 died.
This represented 39.5 percent Case Fatality Rate; all deaths from the epidemic, except 14, occurred in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Liberia was the worst hit with 4,810 deaths; Nigeria recorded eight deaths, while Mali recorded six.
WHO chief Margaret Chan, speaking in Guinea at an event dedicated to individuals who fought to control the disease in their communities said that “scientists do not yet know exactly where in nature the Ebola virus hides between outbreaks, but nearly all experts agree that another outbreak is inevitable.” She, however, assured that the new vaccine and rapid-response measures will contain the expected outbreak.
Is this really the case?
A look at casualty figures from past outbreaks shows that Nigeria, for instance, may not have an adequate disease response mechanism in place yet. Nigeria lost 149 people to Lassa fever, while more than four hundred people lost their lives to meningitis.
This high number of casualties could be attributed to little improvements in community and health care worker awareness, preparedness and general response activities. Usually, response and sensitization become high and urgent when a few deaths have been recorded.
Like the recent meningitis case in northern Nigeria, securing vaccines have also been a problem when there are outbreaks, sometimes due to unavailability of these vaccines that are produced in Europe or America or prioritisation of vaccines to areas that are worst hit.
How Africa can respond to Ebola
Nigerians have Dr Stella Adedavoh to thank for the containment of the ebola virus disease, but there needs to be an active disease surveillance system for early detection.
Although WHO says Ebola is no longer an international emergency, the good news is that more funding and research that have been secured will help Africa fight these diseases with the right vaccines produced in Africa. Africa needs more research institutes and funding to help its scientists stay ahead of the curve in fighting diseases plaguing the continent.
To buttress this point, Guinean President Alpha Conde, who spoke at the event, said it was “time Africa benefited from cutting-edge technology, notably in the field of biomedical sciences.”
This warning from WHO should prompt an aggressive media and public sensitization for the public about how to protect themselves and identify potential cases. The idea that this may lead to panic should be jettisoned. More people need to live with the consciousness that diseases like Ebola and Lassa fever may still re-surface.
Now is also the best time to set up an emergency response team that will act as first responders.