Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Amref Health Africa’s Response

Africa map with affected west African countries highlighted

An epidemic of the Ebola virus continues unabated in West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the death toll reached 932 on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. This makes this Ebola outbreak the most severe in recorded history in regard to both the number of human cases and fatalities.

Amref Health Africa’s West Africa hub is headquartered in Senegal and according to Country Director Dr Mor Ngom, no cases have been reported in that country yet. He is in constant communication with the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Dakar and in Guinea, where a school health programme was launched earlier this year but halted when the Ebola virus struck in March 2014.

Amref Health Africa’s concerns are for affected communities, for its staff and dependents, and for the health workers. Using our experiences garnered during the two Ebola epidemics of 2000 and 2012 in Uganda, Amref Health Africa has agreed to support the Ministries of Health and other stakeholders in the following areas of intervention:

  •  Implementation of Ministry of Health Contingency Plans through participation in coordination meetings and emergency committees at national and local levels
  • Cross-border surveillance
  • Protection of staff (MOH and other health workers, and Amref Health Africa)
  • Training of health providers in infection prevention and control. This includes providing guidelines on specimen collection, storage and transportation for safe delivery of samples to reference laboratories for confirmation
  • Controlling the epidemic through early detection, isolation, treatment of new infection, and contact training, including safe handling of body fluids and the remains of those who die
  • Counselling for Ebola survivors and their relatives
  • Psychosocial support to fight stigma
  • Counselling and psychological support for health care providers
  • Community awareness through community village leaders, working alongside village health teams

We would appreciate if all Ministries of Health and other stakeholders would keep Amref Health Africa offices updated with the latest information on the outbreak and provide us with advice to travellers.

About Ebola

Ebola is one of a group of viral haemorrhagic fevers, which in Africa include Lassa Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Marburg and Ebola, Crimean-Congo and Yellow Fever, each transmitted through various specific routes. The natural reservoir of Ebola is most likely wild fruit bats; humans may contract the virus directly from infected bats, or secondarily from bush animals that are infected by bats.  Human-to-human infection happens when people come into contact with blood or other body fluids (urine, sweat, vomit or sweat) from infected people. Outbreaks of Ebola have been reported in various countries over the last 20 years including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan.

Severely ill patients require highly supportive care. The fatality rate can be very high without proper care, up to 90 per cent, and there is no available licensed treatment or vaccine for use.

The current outbreak of Ebola in West Arica was confirmed in Guinea on March 21, 2014, and quickly spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.  New cases have also been reported in Nigeria. Despite concerted efforts to contain the spread of the disease and manage sick individuals by the World Health Organization, Ministries of Health and other partners in affected countries, the threat of spread of Ebola is real through the enormous human traffic between countries in Africa.

The countries affected by the current epidemic have put in place contingency plans that involve partners and various strategies including surveillance at ports of entry, in health facilities and in the communities; laboratory confirmation and case management; infection prevention and control; advocacy, communication and social mobilisation; coordination and resource mobilisation. In support of the above, various documents are being produced and disseminated including information sheets for health workers and the public, port of entry screening tools, infection control guidelines, and disease surveillance and response tools.