More regional efforts to keep Ebola at bay

Regional health officials have stepped joint surveillance mechanisms for Ebola by increasing the frequency at which information is shared, establishment of isolation facilities and increased public awareness in a bid to ensure the deadly hemorrhagic disease does not creep in.
Health Minister Agnes Binagwaho (R) together with Infrastructure Minister James Musoni at Kigali International Airport. (Courtesy)
Health Minister Agnes Binagwaho (R) together with Infrastructure Minister James Musoni at Kigali International Airport. (Courtesy)

Regional health officials have stepped joint surveillance mechanisms for Ebola by increasing the frequency at which information is shared, establishment of isolation facilities and increased public awareness in a bid to ensure the deadly hemorrhagic disease does not creep in.

Health minister Dr Binagwaho and infrastructure minister James Musoni yesterday toured Kigali International Airport to assess the airport’s readiness to deal with any eventuality.

At the airport, a standby ambulance is in place as well as “specially trained” nurses. The nurses, who are attached to the Rwanda Military Hospital, man a waiting room where a passenger suspected of carrying the virus can be handled before being quarantined in another special room that is being fitted with necessary equipment. This room, officials said, will be ready by tomorrow. 

On Friday, Binagwaho told Sunday Times that the East African region member-countries are now sharing information more frequently—at least two times day—with the urging of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We [in the EAC] are sharing information to take measures according to acknowledged international alert measures. This is an international issue and international collaboration is paramount. The WHO secretariat has asked us to share information,” Binagwaho said.

Her Ugandan counterpart, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, told Sunday Times by phone from Kampala that information is being shared through the regional office of the WHO responsible for Africa.  

Rugunda said regional efforts were also directed at keeping close contact with the West African countries where the disease has been reported.

At the airport, immigration officers have new instructions on how to handle passengers, especially those traveling from West Africa. In addition to usual immigration formalities, the officers have new Ebola prevention questionnaires to be filled by travelers entering Rwanda. 

Travelers are required to supply information about their recent medical history; indicate whether in the last three weeks before their arrival, they participated in a burial ceremony of someone who died or was suspected to have died of a hemorrhagic illness. The visitors’ contact address while in Rwanda also, is given more emphasis. 

Meeting hoteliers

After inspecting facilities at the airport, Binagwaho headed to Sports View Hotel for a meeting with hoteliers to raise awareness.

Hoteliers were urged not to cause panic but to promptly contact the Epidemic Infectious Division of the ministry in case of a visitor presenting with symptoms compatible with Ebola (fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding).

The outbreak in West Africa is reportedly the world’s deadliest to date. The UN on Thursday reported that 729 people have died as health officials in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone struggle to contain the spread of the virus.

Ebola is transmitted through contact with body fluids of an infected person. However, during incubation period (2-21 days), the infected person is well enough to travel. In Uganda, the government has heightened surveillance in all districts, stocked enough medical and health supplies and set up isolation units at Entebbe International Airport. Rugunda said no Ebola case has been confirmed in Uganda as had earlier been rumoured.  

Instead, Ugandans intending to travel to West Africa have been cautioned to do so only if they must. 

Kenya

In Kenya, the Ministry of Health on Thursday assured Kenyans that it is primed to detect and promptly deal with any possible cases of Ebola. The director of medical services Nicholas Muraguri said health workers had been put on high alert for unexplained illness among those who have visited the affected countries recently. 

The country’s flag carrier, Kenya Airways, also issued precautionary measures to educate all staff, especially those in Sierra Leone, on how keep safe from the virus. Kenya Airways crew members have also been supplied and trained on the use of Universal Precaution Kits (UPKs) to ensure that they do not come into contact with body fluids while carrying out their duties.

Muraguri however said that the risk of travelers contracting Ebola is low because it requires direct contact with body fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. “Ebola can’t be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air. Therefore the risk to travelers and people working in affected countries of contracting Ebola is very low.”

Kenya has established a disease surveillance or rapid response team and laboratory capacity to diagnose all hemorrhagic fevers including Ebola.

Tanzania 

In Tanzania, the government on Thursday summoned top health officials for an emergency meeting to draw up plans to avert any possible Ebola risk. According to The Citizen newspaper, the meeting discussed necessary intervention measures “just in case.” A vigilance team formerly established to track down possible victims of yellow fever, has been reassembled to for the task at major airports of Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro.

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