Guinea tracks potential Ebola contacts as vaccination campaign begins in Congo

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Guinea is tracking down people who potentially came in contact with Ebola patients and will rush out vaccines to the area as soon as it can get them, after three people died of the disease, Health Minister Remy Lamah said on Monday.

Lamah said that unlike during the deadliest known outbreak, which tore through West Africa in 2013-16, Guinea now has the means to halt the resurgence of the disease.

The Ebola virus causes severe bleeding and organ failure and is spread through contact with body fluids. It has a much higher death rate than COVID-19, but unlike the coronavirus it is not transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. 

“In 2013, it took us months to understand that we were dealing with an Ebola epidemic, while this time, in less than four days, we were able to do analysis and have the results. Our medical teams are trained and seasoned. We have the means to quickly overcome this disease,” Lamah told Reuters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects vaccines to arrive in Guinea as soon as this week, its country representative Georges Ki-Zerbo said. He has requested authorisation to obtain “as many doses as possible.”

International organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières and medical charity ALIMA said they were sending rapid response teams to the region to assist.

Lamah did not say how many potential contacts health officials were trying to trace. However, authorities including in neighbouring Sierra Leone are concerned that the disease could quickly spread in the area where borders are porous.

A spokesperson for Sierra Leone’s Health Ministry said on Monday workers were on the ground at points of entry, performing surveillance in co-ordination with the Guinea authorities.

Outbreak started after funeral

The resurgence started after the funeral of a nurse who was buried in southeast Guinea on Feb. 1. Authorities said seven people who took part in the funeral fell ill with diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding and tested positive for Ebola. Three have died, while four others are in isolation.

“As a priority, we are trying to trace all potential contacts to isolate them,” Lamah said. “At the same time, we will carry out a vaccination campaign in the locality, as soon as the doses are available.

“What worries us the most is the dangerousness of the disease given what we experienced five years ago. We do not want to relive such a situation.” 

Lamah said the government had received assurances from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it will help it get vaccines, as doses stored from the previous outbreak had expired.

Congolese health workers vaccinated

The 2013-16 outbreak killed 11,300 people, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The second-deadliest known outbreak was declared over last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But that country has also confirmed four cases of Ebola since a resurgence of the virus was announced on Feb. 7 in Butembo, about 3,000 kilometres northeast of Kinshasa, alarming global health officials.

On Monday, an Ebola vaccination campaign began in Butembo, with health workers at Matanda health centre the first to be vaccinated, WHO said in a tweet.

According to WHO, 1,200 doses of Ebola vaccine and cold chain equipment arrived in the city on Friday. The new Ebola vaccines have greatly improved survival rates in recent years.





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