Ebola is avertable if the general public becomes fully educated about how it is spread, Ministry of Health officials have said.
The officials were meeting journalists to discuss how the latter can help keep at bay the virus that continues to wreck havoc on the continent, mainly afflicting three West African nations – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Health minister Dr Agnes Binagwaho, said: “Ebola can be prevented once the public, media, local government, and other stakeholders join efforts.”
“We need to carry out mass sensitisation so that people understand how the disease is spread in addition to seeking early treatment,” she added.
At least 4,500 people have so far died of Ebola.
Dr Thierry Nyatanyi, Head of Division of Epidemic Infectious Diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says Ebola kills around 70 per cent of those infected when they do not seek medical help early.
“There is no treatment yet but when medical workers quickly compensate for fluids lost due to diarrhea, a sufferer can be saved,” he said.
The Ministry of Health permanent secretary, Dr Solange Hakiba, said seeking early medical care can help save lives.
He said the country is on high alert, adding that a fully-fledged Ebola ward at the Rwandan Military Hospital in Kanombe, screening facilities and personnel at all entry points into the country, and isolation facilities in all hospitals had been put in place to check the spread of the epidemic.
Rwanda has screened more than 250,000 people since the exercise begun four months ago. About 30 people, majority of them Rwandan, were quarantined for 22 days in facilities guarded by the police and later passed as safe.
Media role stressed
Nathan Mugume, Head of Rwanda Health Communication Centre, said the media play a key role in building, maintaining and restoring public trust, adding that the media sets the agenda in terms of information consumption by the public.
“During outbreaks, communication helps the public understand the degree of personal risk.
Misinformation slows down efforts aimed at combating the disease while rumours and speculation cause panic. Media can restore hope by curbing rumours,” Mugume said.
The ministry requested media owners for free airtime and space for awareness messages on Ebola prevention.
Meanwhile, religious leaders were also asked to paly a part in tackling the threat.
In case of an outbreak, Binagwaho said, one is urged to think about protecting their loved ones from possible contamination. This is a critical first step in protecting the whole nation.
Changing long-held cultural and religious practices would be paramount in national strategies, especially since a humane multi-dimensional approach is critical in keeping the disease at bay, Dr Hakiba said.
“We look at a person as a human being and this is a national approach we have to discuss,” Dr Hakiba said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that to prevent people from getting infected, there should be no touching, under any circumstances, infected people or dead bodies.
The WHO says the risk of transmission is low since becoming infected requires direct, physical contact with the bodily fluids (vomit, stool, urine, blood, semen, or others) of people infected with or who died from Ebola.
“Isolation and professional clinical treatment increase a person’s chance of survival,” reads part of a WHO public advisory.