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30/09/2016

Ebola refuses to let go of West Africa

Global Europe

Ebola refuses to let go of West Africa

The reemergence of Ebola cases and the virus' resilient nature mean authorities will have to remain vigilant for some time yet.

[Medici con l'Africa Cuamm/Flickr]

Nine people die have died in West Africa since Guinea was declared free of the Ebola virus and a thousand people are under still under surveillance as a result. EurActiv’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

The worst Ebola epidemic in West Africa’s history, which started in December 2013 and which has caused more than 11,300 deaths out of a recorded 28,000 cases, refuses to disappear completely. Twice authorities thought that the virus had been defeated, only to see a reemergence of cases. On Sunday (3 April) in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a five-year-old became the twelfth known case in the region to be diagnosed since the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared an end to the epidemic on 14 January. Nine of those twelve have subsequently died.

The WHO warned of the risk of infection when it declared the region virus-free, given its enormous capacity to survive in an out-patient’s bodily fluids and the nine month incubation period that has been observed in infected individuals’ semen.

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In fact, on 14 January, just hours after the WHO announcement was made public, the government of Sierra Leone announced that 22-year-old Marie Jalloh had died two days previously because of Ebola.

Authorities placed 109 people under surveillance, but none developed symptoms and on March 17, after a mandatory period of 42 days had elapsed without any new cases, the WHO once again announced that the entire region was Ebola-free.

However, history repeated itself because that same day the government of Guinea announced two new confirmed cases. Tests confirmed the worst: it was Ebola.

More than a thousand people were identified as being at risk and were also put under surveillance. Hours later, Liberia announced the closure of its land border with Guinea, due to the proximity of the new cases to its territory. A measure that was later suspended.

Liberian fears over the virus being imported into the country were realised on Thursday (31 March), when a woman who had travelled from Guinea died in Monrovia.

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“Now we know what we have to do, we can contain it, we can control it. No need to panic,” Liberian Deputy Minister of Health, Tolbert Nyensuah, told French media on Friday (1 April). The authorities have appealed for calm in a country where the epidemic has claimed a total of 4,809 lives.

On 29 March, the WHO withdrew its global public health emergency, which had been in place since August 2014 and the UN agency’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, said that there would be “a low risk” of the disease spreading internationally.

Health experts agree that the main concern is the virus’ capacity to remain active within a recovered patient. The fact that there are 17,000 survivors in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, means that the risk of infection will remain a risk for months to come. The WHO is currently pursuing a vaccination campaign that has so far managed to inoculate 800 people affected by the latest outbreak.

El País - Planeta Futuro

Background

More than €1 billion was pledged by member states and the European Commission to fight the Ebola crisis. The Council appointed Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides as the EU Ebola Coordinator.

Mobile laboratories, humanitarian experts, and specialists in dangerous infectious diseases have been deployed to the region.

The €280 million call for proposals, launched by the Commission and the European pharmaceutical industry, is under the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).