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Africa.- DRC and Guinea, facing the double threat of Ebola and coronavirus

Outbreaks in North Kivu and N’Zerekore will strain already fragile healthcare systems

MADRID, 20 (EUROPA PRESS)

The authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea have recently confirmed individual outbreaks of Ebola, a situation that threatens to further strain health systems that are already fragile and hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led the community to mobilize quickly to support local populations.

The DRC announced on February 7 the existence of a new outbreak – the twelfth in the country – in the province of North Kivu (east), the epicenter of one of the two that recently shook the country and that was concluded in 2020 after leaving about 2,300 dead.

The affected area is facing a battery of crises, including a security crisis due to the presence of numerous armed groups – something that has already made the response to the previous outbreak difficult – and also has a high population density and a significant rate of mobility, so the authorities have responded quickly to try to cut the chain of contagion.

To date, six cases have been detected, with two deaths, according to the provincial Minister of Health, Eugene Nzanzu, while more than 500 contacts have been identified and more than 90 people have already been vaccinated after the start of the campaign on 15 December. February.

In this sense, Luis Encinas, an Ebola expert at Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has pointed out in declarations granted to Europa Press that, although “you always have to be very careful with a new outbreak, especially at the beginning”, the existence of vaccines and a “knowledge” about the situation after the 2020 outbreak are important points of support for structuring the response.

“There was already a very quick response from the local authorities,” he said, while emphasizing that “vaccination has begun.” “MSF is giving support to this area,” Encinas said, highlighting that “one of the challenges, beyond the logistics, is accepting the disease.

Thus, he has argued that “beyond the stigmas and fear, we must be together, because if a wall is not created and this strategy cannot be carried out”, before adding that the communities should be at the center of the strategy and not forget that, despite Ebola and the coronavirus, it is important to maintain a “holistic” position.

For her part, the director of World Vision in the DRC, Anne-Marie Connor, said that the organization “had trained and equipped religious leaders and other disseminators on how to help their communities to contain these outbreaks.”

“Since March 2020 we have adapted our programs to increase standard operating procedures against COVID-19, and fortunately most measures, such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing, also work for Ebola prevention.” , has valued the director of World Vision in the east of the country, David Munkley.

MULTISECTORAL RESPONSE

Along these lines, Patrick Saah, director of World Vision for Sustained Humanitarian Emergencies in the DRC, has outlined that “addressing public health challenges of this nature requires a rapid mobilization of resources to implement multisectoral responses.”

Saah has pointed out that “a new Ebola outbreak announced in Guinea further confuses international response mechanisms”, although the regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, highlighted on Thursday that they have activities to support each response.

Guinea, which reported an outbreak in N’Zerekore (southeast) on February 14, has already announced a ban on markets and religious ceremonies to try to contain the outbreak, which has left eight cases to date, with three deaths.

The director of the Guinean Public Security Agency, Sakoba Keita, has pointed this Friday to three hypotheses that the authorities are considering, including the consumption of wild animals, as has been collected by the Guinean news portal Guinée News.

“The bat is involved in this and is consumed locally. As in many forest areas of Guinea, bat meat is consumed, but at the moment there is no evidence,” he pointed out, before adding that the hypotheses also include that it was a “cured” person or a person who arrived from DRC.

In this case, Encinas recalled that N’Zerekore is the area where the first cases of the 2014 outbreak were identified, which lasted until 2016 and affected Liberia and Sierra Leone, leaving more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.

“What is interesting is that it is the same pattern. A nurse is infected and during the funeral many people are infected, three of them also die,” he said, although he stressed that the situation is not the same. “It is important to note that we are no longer in 2014, we are much more advanced,” he valued.

“As we have seen and experienced in the DRC in the outbreaks that have followed (the one in 2014), the vaccine has been experimented on a large scale, certain treatments have been implemented,” explained Encinas, who highlighted that they an impact in reducing the fatality rate. “

“REAL CONTINGENCY PLANS”

For this reason, he has stated that it is important to implement “real contingency plans”, including contact tracing to identify “as soon as possible” cases and “break the circle of contagion”, as well as a vaccination plan. The immunization campaign is scheduled to start this Monday.

“We understand very well now what is happening in these countries living what is happening in Spain with COVID-19. We must scrupulously follow these factors and these protocols,” he indicated, before reiterating the importance of “being as close as possible “possible from the needs of the communities.

Along these lines, Frederik van der Schrieck, MSF’s general coordinator in Guinea, stressed that “a team of experienced professionals is being rapidly trained to support the Ministry of Health in the response to Ebola.”

“Experience in previous outbreaks has shown us that the ability to provide an immediate response is extremely important in trying to contain transmission and be able to offer treatment to people who have contracted the disease,” he defended.

“We also know that in these cases community participation is vital, so we will try to strike the right balance between responding quickly and taking steps to ensure that the population is actively involved, both in prevention and response to the disease. epidemic, “he added.

IMPACT ON GIRLS AND ADOLESCENTS

For its part, the non-governmental organization Plan International has also warned of the impact of the outbreak in Gouecké on the security and rights of thousands of girls and adolescents in the African country and recalled that they were “among the most affected” by the one registered in the region between 2014 and 2016.

“It is necessary for the authorities to guarantee technical and financial support to protect the rights of children, and especially of girls and adolescents,” said the general director of Plan International, Concha López.

The organization recalled that during the latest outbreak in Guinea, girls and adolescents stopped going to health services, faced hunger due to food shortages and lack of protection due to the humanitarian cohesion crisis.

“Faced with this new wave, it is essential that girls can continue to go to school and access health services. It is also necessary to strengthen protection mechanisms at the community level, restore livelihoods and ensure community resilience,” has settled.