West Africa Readies for Ebola Battle

At least five people are known to have died of Ebola in Guinea since an outbreak in February. As the World Health Organization rolls out a vaccination, neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia are preparing for the disease to cross the borders, the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian reported on March 7.

About 225 people have been vaccinated in Guinea, since the virus broke out on 14 February in the N’Zerekore region, the United Nations says.  This is the first time in five years that Ebola has been detected in West Africa. The last outbreak, which lasted from 2014 to 2016, devastated Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing more than 11,000 people.

Health workers are hoping it will be different this time. They have a new weapon in their arsenal — a vaccine that was released in late 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already sent 11,000 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine, to Guinea, with an additional 8,500 expected to arrive soon.

The initial vaccination drive is targeted at people in high-risk areas, especially health workers and those who have been in direct contact with a patient. About 65 WHO professionals are on the ground to help the Guinean government respond to the outbreak.

The Ebola vaccine has proved its effectiveness — it was instrumental in bringing the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under control.

In Guinea, the WHO is supporting health officials to identify contacts, set up a treatment system, enhance surveillance and involve citizens in containing the virus. So far, 276 contacts are under surveillance, Guinea’s National Agency for Health says. It is also ramping up infection prevention and control of health facilities and reaching out to residents to improve response.

There has been no confirmation of cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but the two countries are on high alert because they share very porous borders with Guinea.

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