We are entering “a new phase” and large outbreaks of deadly diseases like Ebola are a “new normal,” the World Health Organisation has warned, saying countries and other bodies need to focus on preparing for new deadly epidemics. Two thousand cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Speaking to British newspaper, the Telegraph, Dr Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said that more outbreaks of zoonotic diseases – those that spread from animals to humans – will occur as factors such as climate change, deforestation, large and highly mobile populations, weak governments and conflict come into play with more frequency. He added: “Preparedness has to be a major goal for the world – responding to these events one after another is not a solution.”
In May, the UN secretary-general named MONUSCO Deputy UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, David Gressly as UN Emergency Ebola Co-ordinator to oversee UN’s work against Ebola in DRC.
Gressly’s security background indicates recognition that the response is no longer merely the purview of medical experts, owing to the increase in armed attacks on health workers responding to the crisis. As CRJ went to press, news came in of WHO epidemiologist, Dr Kiboung, being killed as armed raiders looted and burnt an Ebola treatment centre.
Such violence stops key activities, including identifying and treating those infected, vaccinations and safe burials, leading to a spike in infections.
Meanwhile, in Uganda, the Government and its partners have so far invested over $18 million in Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) preparedness and readiness, according to the Ministry of Health. Five-hundred-and-twenty-six health workers in 14 districts have been trained on the appropriate handling of suspected EVD patients while taking sufficient protection measures for themselves. These health workers are now available for rapid deployment to any part of the country.
In addition, Ebola treatment units have been constructed in which the trained health workers can take care of patients. Presently, 9,806 health workers in 562 health units located in 11 high-risk districts of the Rwenzori sub-region have been trained and mentored on EVD infection prevention and control (IPC). This is a critical aspect in the EVD response as many health workers have acquired the infection, lost their lives and further perpetuated the disease through poor IPC practices.
In efforts to ensure further health worker safety against EVD, 4,419 frontline workers in 13 districts have been vaccinated against the Ebola-Zaire virus subtype that is currently circulating in DRC, with a high possibility of spill over to Uganda, given the proximity of the epicentre.
EVD preparatory efforts have also been augmented with the training of 404 health workers in 13 districts on psychosocial support and in addition, 17 districts now have trained and fully equipped teams ready to conduct safe and dignified burials.
Community education, awareness programmes, radio talk shows, announcements and TV messages have supplemented awareness activities.
Image: Kateryna Kon | 123rf