Ebola: WHO urges communities to “remain vigilant”

Ebola: WHO urges communities to "remain vigilant"

Based on the just concluded yearly conference, the World
Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that the contest and  fight against Ebola is not over. WHO’s
country representative in Guinea told DW that as case numbers decline, so does
people’s watchfulness.

Despite the fact Liberia was acknowledged Ebola-free on May 9, Sierra Leone
and Guinea apparently is still experiencing Ebola cases every week, on
approximation. Lately, the number of new cases rose in both countries. Last
week, Sierra Leone recorded eight new infections as compared to two infections
the previous week, and Guinea’s figures were higher than they had been for a
month, with 27 new infections recorded. Professor Jean-Marie Dangou is WHO’s country
representative in Guinea.

DW: Why have we seen a rise in new infections in Guinea and Sierra Leone? 

Jean-Marie Dangou: The final days of a widespread epidemic are often the
most problematic. Those last miles are an uncomfortable thoroughfare. When case
numbers reduce, we often see group of people 
and communities taking on a more relaxed attitude toward the virus. This
is exactly why WHO has increased the efforts in all areas in Guinea to ensure
that we reach zero cases as soon as possible. As you have seen in Liberia and
Sierra Leone, small flare-ups are common toward the end of the response. One of
the reasons for these new infections is displacement. We have seen cases
spreading this way.

 So people, and even dead bodies, are moving from one prefecture
to another.

Not only has the number of new infections risen in both countries,
districts that haven’t had cases for a long time have begun seeing new
infections. Is there a danger of the epidemic spreading again to other regions?

We are currently employing all techniques humanly possible to combat
complacency. We recently launched a four-day surveillance campaign in
Forecariah, one of the affected prefectures, 150 kilometers (93 miles) from
Conakry. It saw teams of doctors, social mobilizers and also community
surveillance workers visiting 8,033 households, reaching a total of 38,560
people. So these door-to-door teams went from household to household to
sensitize the families and to identify any cases which have not declared
themselves voluntarily. Through the campaign we identified 39 alerts and 29
community deaths, and a total of 7 confirmed Ebola cases. We are now continuing
active surveillance with all the teams over the 17-day period.

Until the epidemic is declared over, there is always the risk of the virus
spreading, whether it is moving from one prefecture to another or from one
country to another. This is caused by movement of people with the Ebola virus,
and also the moving of dead bodies. For this reason WHO will continue to work
around the clock to fight this epidemic right down to the last case. We are
also taking measures to ensure so that the communities understand this risk.
Right now we are focused on ensuring that communities remain vigilant.

Our key message is to remain vigilant; the epidemic is not yet over in
Guinea. We may be nearing the end of it, but that is not a reason to relax the
measures we have put in place to fight Ebola. At WHO we have redoubled our
efforts to ensure that – along with the Ministry of Health, partner organizations,
and the community at large – we can end Ebola in Guinea in a few weeks.

You seem to be very optimistic that the epidemic is actually coming to an
end. How closely are you working with authorities in Guinea?

We are working hand-in-hand, with the government, in specific, with the
National Coordination Cell for the Ebola reply. We are on condition that,
working simultaneously will be healthy, and as such provide  them with technical and logical  support in each of the pillars of the Ebola

This invariably  means: community
mobilization, community  engagement and
appointment as the first pillar. The second one is epidemiological
surveillance, meaning identification of suspected cases in the community,
contact identification and tracing, but also active surveillance. The third
pillar is case management, including safe and dignified burial. And the last
one is coordination. WHO is providing technical support for each of these
pillars, but also financial support through the money given to us by donors.

Professor Jean-Marie Dangou is the World Health Organization’s country
representative in Guinea.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi