Boxing out one of the world's most deadliest viruses - CNBC Africa

Boxing out one of the world's most deadliest viruses

Western Africa

by Francois Conradie & Bart Stemmet 0

Borders have been closed in an attempt to prevent the Ebola epidemic from spreading. PHOTO: Getty Images

The government had already placed a travel ban on Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – the countries where there have been confirmed Ebola cases.

Cameroon is the latest in a long line of countries to enact travel bans and close borders with high-risk areas.

Nigeria is pivotal in the region, with many peripheral economies dependent on trade flows with the West African giant. Africa’s largest economy had 16 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola as of August 18.

In turn, Liberia and Sierra Leone had more than 900 recorded cases each, with almost 600 logged in Guinea.

Countries across the world are stepping up their emergency measures as the Ebola virus continues its slow spread across West Africa.

The most radical measures have been implemented in Liberia. On Tuesday, August 19, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced additional health measures, like the closure of all entertainment centres at 18:00 and a general curfew from 20:00 to 06:00.

One particularly badly affected neighbourhood of Monrovia, West Point, has been blocked off and quarantined; the same measure was taken in Dolo’s Town, west of the capital.

The quarantining of West Point resulted in some clashes between residents and police. The epidemic is spreading fast in Liberia, with 126 new cases reported during August 17 - 18 alone, as Monrovia (rather than rural areas) becomes the epicentre of the outbreak.

 In Guinea, Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) says the authorities and international non-governmental partners are capable of controlling the epidemic, although MSF has some concerns over the number of new cases being recorded in Guékédou, in the south-west.

Also during August 17 - 18, some three dozen new cases were reported in Guinea, which has so far succeeded in limiting infections in the most populous areas.

Nigeria continues to monitor the situation carefully – although there have been 12 confirmed cases and four deaths, all cases have resulted from one chain of transmission, and it looks as though all the people at risk have been identified and are being monitored.

The situation in Sierra Leone remains dire: it is the second-worst affected country after Liberia, with 907 cases and 374 deaths.

Some countries have so far been affected by the panic over the disease, even though they have not yet recorded any cases of Ebola.

The most prominent example is Kenya, which has been in the news in connection with the outbreak largely owing to a lack of discrimination between different countries when it comes to reporting on Africa.

Darkly funny was the International Netball Federation’s decision this week to cancel a meeting in Nairobi because, owing to Ebola, the federation could not send its instructors “to Africa.” Kenya is being very cautious, having suspended flights from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and promising to closely monitor any Kenyans coming home from those three countries.

An experimental drug called ZMapp has been administered to two Ebola victims in the US who recovered (and to another who did not); although the drug has not been fully tested, samples have been given to infected medical staff in Liberia who are in isolation.

It remains to be seen whether this will make any difference, and even if it does the drug is not at a stage of development where mass production is possible on short notice.

Canada has given the World Health Organisation (WHO) a vaccine called VSV-EBOV, which has only been tested on animals and has shown ‘promising’ results.

Of interest is the fact that, so far, only 55% of Africans infected with Ebola have died. This is lower than in previous events where upwards of 75% of those infected did not recover.

 While the epidemic continues to spread, things could have been much worse. The epidemic is practically limited to the rural areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia (although the urban outbreak in Monrovia is worrying), with other countries having been successful so far in preventing its spread.

The international awareness of Ebola is very high, and assistance to affected areas has made a big positive difference.

Threats remain of a mutation that would allow the virus to spread more easily, or of another outbreak in Nigeria.

However, unless either of these happens, there is reason to be optimistic that the 2,500 (or fewer) current carriers of the virus can be contained until the current outbreak dies out.

Comments