Congo declares end of latest Ebola outbreak in east

Reuters

A healthcare worker, who volunteered in the Ebola response, decontaminates his colleague in the eastern Congolese town of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

Democratic Republic of Congo has declared the end of its latest Ebola virus outbreak in the eastern province of North Kivu, Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani Mbanda said in a statement on Tuesday.

The fifteenth outbreak in the central African country emerged when a new case of the deadly virus was confirmed in the eastern city of Beni on Aug. 22.

Testing showed the case was genetically linked to the 2018-2020 outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which killed nearly 2,300 people.

Another flare-up from that outbreak killed six people last year.

“After 42 days of reinforced surveillance without a new confirmed case… I am happy to solemnly declare the end of the 15th [Ebola] epidemic… that lasted one month and 12 days,” Mbungani Mbanda said.

Congo’s dense tropical forests are a natural reservoir for the Ebola virus, which causes fever, body aches, and diarrhoea.

The country has recorded 14 outbreaks since 1976. The 2018-2020 outbreak in the east was Congo’s largest and the second largest ever recorded, with nearly 3,500 total cases.

Congo’s most recent outbreak was in northwest Equateur province. It was declared over in July after five deaths.

Tanzania issues alert over Ebola after new outbreak reported in Uganda

By Halligan Agade

An ebola prevention poster sits outside an Ebola Treatment Center at Wankifong, Guinea, on Thursday, September 10, 2015. /Getty Images

Tanzanian health authorities on Wednesday issued an alert over Ebola, a day after authorities in Uganda declared an outbreak of the deadly illness in the central part of the country.

“We have received information on the outbreak of Ebola in Uganda and the government has activated surveillance teams in high risk regions,” said Aifello Sichalwe, the chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health.

Sichalwe said the Ministry of Health has activated surveillance teams in high risk regions of Kagera, Mwanza, Arusha, Mara, Kigoma and Dar es Salaam.

He said the ministry has also beefed up the supply of medical facilities in the risk regions.

Screening for Ebola has been introduced in all the East African nation’s entry points, including airports and borders, said Sichalwe.

He said health authorities were also educating members of the public on the disease, including its symptoms of fever, headaches, fatigue, and nosebleeds.

On Tuesday, the Uganda Virus Research Institute confirmed a case of the Sudan ebolavirus after testing a sample taken from a 24-year-old male.

Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates.

Uganda says Ebola caseload rises to 16 as outbreak grows

Reuters

Ugandan health workers speak to members of the community before carrying out the first vaccination exercise against the ebola virus in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda June 16, 2019. REUTERS/James Akena

Uganda said on Sunday its Ebola caseload had jumped to 16 people while a further 18 people also likely had the disease, fuelling fears of a spreading outbreak that involves a strain for which a vaccine has not yet been found.

In a tweet, the ministry of health also said the death toll of confirmed cases remained four while 17 others classified as probable cases had also died. The outbreak had also now spread to three districts, all in central Uganda.

The east African country last week announced the outbreak of Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever whose symptoms include intense body weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, vomiting, diarrhoea and rashes among others. 

The current outbreak, attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain, appears to have started in a small village in Mubende district around the beginning of September, authorities have said.

The first casualty was a 24-year old man who died earlier this week.

The World Health Organization says the Ebola Sudan strain is less transmissible and has shown a lower fatality rate in previous outbreaks than Ebola Zaire, a strain that killed nearly 2,300 people in the 2018-2020 epidemic in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda Ebola death toll rises to four

Reuters

Three more Ebola patients have died in Uganda, the health ministry said on Friday, bringing the total death toll to four, days after authorities confirmed an outbreak of a strain of the deadly disease for which no vaccine has yet been approved.

Uganda’s health ministry said it had confirmed 11 cases of Ebola in total, including the four deaths.

The current outbreak, attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain, appears to have started in a small village in Mubende district around the beginning of September, authorities say.

Seven other deaths are being investigated for being linked to the outbreak in Mubende, around 130 km west of the capital Kampala.

The first casualty was a 24-year old man who died earlier this week.

The World Health Organization says the Ebola Sudan strain is less transmissible and has shown a lower fatality rate in previous outbreaks than Ebola Zaire, a strain that killed nearly 2,300 people in the 2018-2020 epidemic in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda on alert as malaria cases and deaths rise

Jonathan Kamoga, The East African

Kenya Medical Research Institute doctors research malaria at the clinical research facility laboratory in the Kenya coastal town of Kilifi, November 23, 2010. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga Image used for illustrative purpose.

A resurgence of malaria cases and deaths in Uganda is worrying the medical fraternity amid reported shortage of medicines.

According to Jimmy Opigo, the programme manager for malaria control at the Ministry of Health, preliminary findings point to a drop in usage of mosquito nets, mutation of the malaria parasite and increase in drug resistance.“We are also studying whether Covid-19 could have had some impact,” Dr Opigo said.

Some private and public hospitals in high risk districts are reporting an increase in the number of malaria patients seeking treatment in the facilities, health workers said.“Most of the inpatients at our facility are malaria patients although we have many outpatients coming in daily. Most of the drugs we have been stocking for the bigger part of this year are malaria drugs,” said Annet Nsole, a lab technician at Kasana Health Centre in Luweero district.

According to August data from the Ministry of Health, about 46 districts across the country are currently experiencing a surge in the number of new malaria infections.“We have made some progress. We had over 70 districts, and we are now down to 40. But it’s still one third of the country, and that is really high,” Dr Opigo said.

In the last two weeks of August, the country registered 199,695 new cases with 35 deaths. Since the peak of the upsurge in January, the average number of bi-weekly new infections stood between 200,000 and 250,000.

This year’s figures are higher than last year’s average of between 100,000 and 120,000 new bi-weekly infections, Health ministry’s data shows.

The ministry has reported that about 23 percent of districts lack enough Artemisinin-based combination therapy stocks for treatment of patients.

Increased supplies

“This is mostly because of logistical constraints. But currently as government, we are increasing supplies in terms of medicine and mosquito nets in high risk areas. In some others, we are spraying. We are now enhancing case investigation and running media campaigns to create awareness within the population,” Dr Opigo said.

But most of these interventions have been constrained by limited funds.

According to Dr Opigo, the Health ministry spends about $140 million annually in the fight against malaria but the current upsurge has created a funding gap. Recently, the ministry secured $14 million from the Global Fund to help them finance the current upsurge, but officials say more funding is still needed.“We run long-term grants of about three to four years so what we did was to call forward the money for 2023 to help us increase medicine supply mostly. We are sourcing for more so we can be able to fill the gaps created by the increasing consumption arising from the upsurge,” Dr Opigo said.

Botswana to Cull More Than 10,000 Cattle to Fight Disease Outbreak

Mqondisi Dube

FILE – Cattle walk across a road in Gaborone, Botswana, April 5, 2020. The country will cull more than 10,000 cattle in the northeast in an effort to fight foot-and-mouth disease.

GABORONE, BOTSWANA — Botswana has announced it will cull more than 10,000 cattle in the country’s northeast in a bid to fight an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. One of Africa’s largest beef producers, Botswana was forced in August to halt beef exports over the virus, including to the lucrative European Union.

Assistant Minister for Agriculture Molebatsi Molebatsi said the decision to kill affected livestock was taken following consultations with disease control experts.

“The decision to depopulate is the one we have taken,” Molebatsi said. “We took the decision after consultation with experts. We don’t want any traces of the virus to remain or to have any further viral circulation.”

Molebatsi said 19,000 cattle are in the affected zone, which is near the Zimbabwe border, and more than 10,000 will be slaughtered. Some goats and sheep will also be culled.

Veterinarian Mbatshi Mazwinduma said culling means farmers must be compensated.

“It comes at a great cost because it means people have to be compensated,” Mazwinduma said. “And there is also environmental issues of animals that have been slaughtered … on how do you dispose of them safely.”

Mazwinduma said in disease control, there should be certain considerations, particularly for the affected farmers.

“When you are trying to control the disease, you have to consider the economic, social and often political impact. Politically speaking, remember at times you are going to be slaughtering animals that belong to farmers, and you might push them further into abject poverty,” Mazwinduma said. “Most of the time, the compensation of animals that are slaughtered is nowhere near the equivalent value if they were to sell them at the market.”

Bose Sethupa, a farmer from the affected region, said while the livelihoods of many people will be affected, the government has to contain the disease.

“It is a good move to try and contain the spread of the disease, but at the same time, it is not too good to the farmers because the government compensation is lower than the value of what the farmer will be having,” Sethupa said. “But apart from that … the move is good. It is truly meant to protect the export market, which is very key to our economy.”

Roughly half of Botswana’s beef exports — or about 9,000 tons — are sent to the EU each year.

Investing in Africa’s health

Donald P. Kaberuka, Project Syndicate

Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

KIGALI – There was a time, not so long ago, when an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. AIDS, together with tuberculosis and malaria, killed millions of people and overwhelmed health systems worldwide especially in Africa. But the world came together and fought back. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, established in 2002, is an unparalleled success story. Cooperation between developed and developing countries, the private sector, civil society, and affected communities has saved 44 million lives, and the combined death rate from these three diseases has been reduced by more than half.

Saving this many lives has had a huge economic impact. The Global Fund estimates that an investment of $1 through the health programs it supports will result in $31 in health gains and economic returns over three years. And since most of its investments are in Africa, the benefits will spread across the continent.

But the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed this rapid progress. While the death rate on the continent has not been as catastrophic as many feared, the pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on Africa’s health systems and on the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria. Testing, diagnosis, and treatment for these diseases have been severely affected, threatening the gains made in previous decades. Worldwide deaths from malaria, for example, increased by 13% in 2020, to a level not seen since 2012. Unless things change, the gap in health and economic outcomes between Africa and the rest of the world will widen.

Overseas aid remains vital. If we are to reverse the losses created by the pandemic and continue to do lifesaving work, the Global Fund needs to meet its fundraising target of $18 billion over the next three years. The Fund’s Replenishment Conference this month will bring together representatives from donor countries, the private sector, and civil-society groups seeking to renew commitments and ensure overarching support for the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria.

But domestic investment is also crucial for securing health sustainability, especially given the impact of recent global shocks on both advanced and emerging economies. To this end, the Global Fund supports initiatives like the African Union’s African Leadership Meeting (ALM), which advocates for increased domestic resources for health.

While the Global North can look forward to the post-COVID economic recovery, Africa is still lagging behind the rest of the world in vaccine access and uptake. The continent will need more time to recover fully from the pandemic. How, then, in the face of an uncertain economic outlook – with African GDP dropping, inflation rising, and food and energy costs soaring – can governments realistically increase health spending?

While there is no silver bullet, we have identified several actions that governments can take to promote investment in the health sector.

For starters, economic recovery is a virtuous circle: GDP growth enables greater investment in health, and a healthier population is more productive. The next few years could be challenging as the longer-term consequences of the pandemic and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine adversely affect investment and trade. But fully implementing initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) could help reduce Africa’s dependency on food and fuel imports.

Another way to prop up local health systems would be to increase tax revenues. Many African governments face a significant “tax gap” – the difference between what their tax laws should, in theory, deliver and what governments manage to collect. Removing loopholes and reinforcing the efficacy of tax administration are powerful ways to make more money available for health.

Governments should also allocate more funds to public health. Very few African countries currently devote 15% of their national budgets to the health sector the target set by the 2001 Abuja Declaration. This, in turn, impedes their ability to ramp up efforts to eradicate AIDS, TB, malaria, and other epidemics, and thus reduces their chances of achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The private sector must do its part as well, whether through corporate taxes, employer-led health insurance, or workplace health schemes. Private companies benefit enormously from a healthier population and as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic – can suffer dramatic losses when infectious diseases run wild.

Of course, it is also important to make health spending more efficient. This would involve coordination between finance and health ministries. Finance ministries can support planning, budgeting, and spending by providing a clear indication of available resources over the medium term and by being responsive to changing needs, including health emergencies. Meanwhile, health ministries can design more streamlined and cost-effective public programs.

Pulling these levers requires political leadership and sustained effort. The Global Fund directly supports African communities and governments as they work to strengthen local health systems. But only a combination of international aid and domestic financing can turbocharge the efforts to eliminate AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030. And only by ending these epidemics can we propel Africa’s economies, bolster the world’s defenses against future outbreaks, and free millions from the burden of disease.

Donald P. Kaberuka, a former president of the African Development Bank, is Board Chair of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Ghana declares end of Marburg virus disease outbreak

Reuters News

A health worker measures the temperature of a man entering the ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action) Ebola treatment centre in Beni, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, April 1, 2019. Picture taken April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner Image used for illustrative purpose.

DAKAR – Ghana has declared the end of a Marburg virus outbreak, a highly infectious disease similar to Ebola, that was confirmed in July, the president’s office said on Monday.

Ghana’s Marburg outbreak was the second in West Africa. The first ever case of the virus was detected last year in Guinea, with no further cases identified.

“The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has officially declared Ghana free from the Marburg virus disease outbreak that was confirmed nearly two months ago,” the presidency tweeted on Monday.

Two people who died in Ghana tested positive for Marburg at the start of July, after which the West African country’s government confirmed its first outbreak of the disease on July 17.

Two more cases were confirmed around 10 days later, one of which died at the start of August, bringing the total number of fatalities to three.

There have been a dozen major Marburg outbreaks since 1967, mostly in southern and eastern Africa. Fatality rates have varied from 24% to 88% in past outbreaks depending on the virus strain and case management, according to the World Health Organization.

Uganda declares Ebola virus disease outbreak

By Christine Maema

Health authorities in Uganda on Tuesday declared an outbreak of Ebola after a case of the relatively rare Sudan strain was confirmed in Mubende district in the central part of the country.

According to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, the case was confirmed after testing a sample taken from a 24-year-old male following an investigation by the National Rapid Response team of six suspicious deaths that have occurred in the district this month.

There are currently eight suspected cases who are receiving care in a health facility.

“This is the first time in more than a decade that Uganda is recording the Ebola Sudan strain. We are working closely with the national health authorities to investigate the source of this outbreak while supporting the efforts to quickly roll out effective control measures,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

“Uganda is no stranger to effective Ebola control. Thanks to its expertise, action has been taken to quickly to detect the virus and we can bank on this knowledge to halt the spread of infections,” she added.

There have been seven previous outbreaks of the Ebola Sudan strain, with four occurring in Uganda and three in Sudan.

Uganda last reported an outbreak of Ebola Sudan in 2012.

WHO is assisting Ugandan health authorities with the investigation and is deploying staff to the affected area. WHO has also dispatched supplies to support the care of patients and is sending a tent that will be used to isolate patients.

Polio outbreak in Sudan successfully stopped and declared closed

By Christine Maema

Sudan’s outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) has been successfully stopped, according to experts from WHO, UNICEF and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Declared in 15 out of 18 states, the outbreak was caused by a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2) strain imported from Chad, paralyzing 58 children.

The announcement came after virtual and in-country reviews of Sudan’s response to the outbreak and its surveillance system by a team of experts in polio eradication, global public health, epidemiology, and vaccine management.

The final Outbreak Response Assessment, held between July 24 and August 1, included interviews and reviews of reports and records with surveillance and immunization staff at state, locality, and health facility levels.

The findings of the Outbreak Response Assessment, coupled with the absence of the cVDPV2 virus for more than 18 months in the presence of sustained high-quality poliovirus surveillance, make it possible to conclude that the cVDPV2 outbreak can now be declared closed.

“The closure of this outbreak speaks to the skill and diligence of health workers and public health officials in Sudan, and to the extraordinary commitment of the Government of Sudan demonstrated by allocation of significant domestic financial resources to the response, during one of the most challenging periods of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Backed by UNICEF and WHO, the Federal Ministry of Health successfully organized two nationwide vaccination campaigns targeting children under-5 years of age to contain the spread of poliovirus, reaching over 95% of the target population.

Community engagement and social mobilization efforts were stepped up to ensure information about the dangers of the disease and the need to immunize every eligible child reached every household.

“Two nationwide campaigns using monovalent oral polio vaccine type 2 (mOPV2) covered all 18 states in November 2020 and January 2021, reaching over 8 million children under 5 in each of the 2 rounds. In every location, vaccinators took precautions against COVID-19, including using hand sanitizer and wearing masks. Despite the closure of the outbreak, the country remains vigilant for possible poliovirus importation,” said Dr Nima Saeed Abid, WHO Representative in Sudan.

“The closure of the polio outbreak is a remarkable achievement for the children of Sudan. Community engagement has been at the heart of efforts to turn vaccines into vaccinations for over 8 million children. This success is a testament to the commitment of health workers, especially women, who continue to work selflessly and passionately to deliver vaccines,” said Mandeep O’Brien, UNICEF Representative in Sudan.

Across the Eastern Mediterranean Region, cVDPV2 cases have increased in recent years, and the movement of people across borders underscores the risk of importation across and beyond the Region.

The cVDPV2 strain that led to 58 cases in Sudan has been detected in 8 neighboring countries before and after Sudan’s outbreak.