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Watch out for Ebola, health organisations tell region

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this August 6, 2014 file photo, a Nigerian port health official uses a thermometer on a worker at the arrivals hall of Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria. As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa grows, airlines around the globe are closely monitoring the situation but have yet to make any drastic changes. - File

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) yesterday urged the countries of the Americas to be vigilant and prepared for a potential introduction of the Ebola virus in the region.

The recommendation came following a statement by WHO Director General Margaret Chan that the outbreak in West Africa constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC)".

The current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013 and now involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Largest outbreak ever

"As of August 2014, countries have reported 1,779 cases, including 961 deaths," PAHO/WHO said in a statement. "This is currently the largest EVD outbreak ever recorded."

The PHEIC determination was made by Chan based on recommendations from WHO's International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee, which suggested temporary measures to reduce the international spread of the virus for three different groups of WHO member states - those with Ebola transmission; those with a potential or confirmed Ebola case, and unaffected states with land borders with affected countries; and all states.

"Within this context, the following recommendations by the WHO IHR Emergency Committee apply to the countries of the Americas," the statement read. "There should be no general ban on international travel or trade; although the restrictions outlined in these recommendations regarding the travel of EVD cases and contacts should be implemented.

"WHO member states should provide travellers to Ebola-affected and at-risk areas with relevant information on risks, measures to minimise those risks, and advice for managing a potential exposure.

"States should be prepared to detect, investigate, and manage Ebola cases; this should include assured access to a qualified diagnostic laboratory for EVD and, where appropriate, the capacity to manage travellers originating from known Ebola-infected areas who arrive at international airports or major land crossing points with unexplained febrile illness."

PAHO/WHO said the general public should be provided with accurate and relevant information on the Ebola outbreak and measures to reduce the risk of exposure.

Repatriation preparation

States should be prepared to facilitate the evacuation and repatriation of nationals, such as health workers, who have been exposed to Ebola.

"At this time, all actions in the Americas should be oriented towards preventing the establishment of local transmission before the introduction of a possible imported case," noted Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO/WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis.

Within this framework, national authorities of the countries of the region have been urged to put into practice the capacities that have been developed as part of the IHR's implementation.

These include detection of cases compatible with Ebola among travellers; isolation of Ebola-compatible or Ebola-confirmed cases in hospitals that have been designated and prepared for this purpose, following standard infection prevention and control precautions; identification and follow-up on contacts of cases compatible with Ebola; raising awareness of the general population about the virus and communication of risk information to all stakeholders in society.