Ebola Outbreak: Why Ghana Can’t Take Any Chances

Ebola! I don’t know how you feel, but more shivers go down my spine any time I come across it, regardless of the fact that I am a healthcare practitioner. West Africa is presently battling with an Ebola Virus Disease outbreak (EVD), but for us in Ghana, we have been spared, of course with some suspected cases turning out to be negative. But should we be celebrating yet? Outbreak On March 13, 2014, the Ministry of Health of Guinea, notified the WHO of a rapidly evolving outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease. Six out of the seven blood samples collected tested positive, thus confirming the first EVD outbreak in Guinea. Retrospective epidemiological investigation indicated that the first cases of EVD occurred as early as December 2013. The outbreak continued spreading to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone in March and May 2014 respectively. As of June 29, the cumulative number of EVD cases in the three countries stood at 763, including 468 deaths, according to the WHO. Major challenges contributing to the ongoing outbreak include: The lack of understanding and experience in the communities and among healthcare workers, coupled with limited capacities for rapid response; the close community ties including social and commercial activities leading to highly mobile communities; and also the high exposure to Ebola Virus in the community through household care and customary burial procedures. Indeed, the scientist who discovered the Ebola Virus, Dr Peter Piot, is quoted as having said that the current outbreak of the deadly virus in West Africa is “unprecedented.” It is on record that this is the first time that three countries are involved; the first time the outbreak is happening in capital cities. Response so far There have been quite a number of interventions by the WHO in partnerships with MSF, Red Cross and the Ministry Of Health in response to containing the outbreak, in the countries affected. MSF, who have been on the ground in almost all the hot spots, have revealed their inability to manage the situation if help does not come soon. The situation looks threatening to the Africa region and global public health, thus informing the WHO (Africa region office) to convene a two-day emergency meeting of ministers of health and partners in Accra. Highlights in Ghana There is ongoing surveillance for EVD as part of surveillance for viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF). Twelve samples of suspected VHF from Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, Eastern, Greater Accra and Upper East regions sent to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) for testing, have been declared negative for Ebola and other VHF. Other surveillance and laboratory activities ongoing include 60 regional surveillance and disease control officers and 90 port health staff trained on Ebola surveillance with training being cascaded to lower level, an orientation on EVD held for all Regional Health Administrations and GH¢15,000 released by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to support laboratory activities. With planning and coordination, an Initial GH¢ 800,000 has been approved by the government to support the immediate needs of the Ebola Preparedness and Response Plan with GH¢ 50,000 released to the GHS so far. Other evidenced-based measures are ongoing, with regard to case management and social mobilisation such as PPE kits including cadaver bags presented to MOH by WHO and media engagement with information on EVD, mode of spread, signs,symptoms and prevention. Still more challenges Regardless of these, Ghana’s health service is still confronted with challenges, such as the dearth of isolation units designated to manage cases, inadequate information campaign in the communities and limited training of health workers on infection prevention and control measures. At a time when health facilities are running out of detergents and disposable hand gloves, none should say ‘we are ready’. Agreeably, this is “an epidemic of dysfunctional health systems”, and we must fix the lapses, especially that regarding public health, epidemic preparedness and case management know-how for healthcare professionals. Yes, no need to panic but we all need to activate our alert modes. We can’t afford to play on political and cultural lines. It does not matter which facility or family a case is reported to; what matters is preventing the spread. Indeed, it is every individual’s responsibility too, in safeguarding the situation. You need really close contact to become infected. So just being on the bus with someone with Ebola, that’s not a problem, the least we can all do is to ensure proper hand hygiene always. It’s also advisable that we suspend our eating of bat for now. At a fatality rate of 90 per cent, we can’t take any chances. There is hope; unfortunately we may be running out of time. Let’s do this together….