Roundup: Ebola virus remains threat despite recent progress

May 21, 2015 4:53 am 

GENEVA, May 20 — World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan Tuesday warned that the threat posed by the Ebola virus must not be forgotten despite successful efforts to abate the crisis.

"The virus will only be beaten when all three report zero cases," Chan said at a Ebola technical briefing, which is part of the 68th World Health Assembly taking place from May 18 to 26.

Among the panel of invited speakers were health ministers and representatives from all three of the affected countries, namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While WHO declared Liberia Ebola-free on May 9, both Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to struggle to rid their countries of the deadly virus which has killed some 11,000 people.

According to experts, both the lack of knowledge and poor response capacities led to the high death toll, especially in countries such as Liberia where the virus affected densely populated slums.

"Liberia was not prepared, we knew very little about infection prevention and control," said the country's Minister of Health and Social Welfare Walter Gwenigale.

Also mentioned was the labor intensive aspect of the crisis, as people with the right skills are needed together with logistical platforms, adequate supplies, political will and strong leadership.

These requisites were simply not present as the virus hit the West-African states as early as December 2013, entailing a breakdown of health institutions and high incidences of victims.

In light of these shortcomings, Gwenigale highlighted the importance of communication so as to share knowledge, skills and data to better respond to crises in the future — both management reforms and the creation of an emergency operations center were critical in enabling Liberia to turn the corner in May this year.

According to the minister, community engagement also facilitated the transition from an emergency-response modus operandi to the restoration of normal healthcare services.

Strong community mobilization, data-sharing, and enhanced research and development are considered by experts as pivotal when dealing with such large-scale epidemics.

The laudable actions of the international community at large were also appreciated by the delegations, who pleaded for continued support to achieve the goal of zero Ebola in the region.

"With the help of the international community, we have built hospitals enabling us to have coverage throughout our territory," said Guinea's Minister of Health Remy Lamah.

Particular references to China's aid efforts were made, Chan on Monday told reporters that how touched she was by the speed and number of response-teams sent by the Chinese government.

Over 1,200 Chinese medical workers and experts were deployed to West Africa to set up health centers, conduct crucial awareness campaigns and assist in the medical treatment of victims.

With the rainy season fast-approaching, and cases still present in two out of the three countries, such stabilizing efforts must be understood in the context of a battle which has yet to be won.

As Sierra Leone's representative indicated when talking about the situation on the ground and in light of the progress made by his country to counter the tragic pandemic, "good is not good enough." (PNA/Xinhua)

JBP/EBP

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