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WHO confirms new Ebola case in DRC, lists strategies to ease Covid-19 restrictions

A new case of Ebola virus disease was confirmed on Friday, April 10, 2020 in the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

“While not welcome news, this is an event we anticipated. We kept response teams in Beni and other high risk areas for precisely this reason,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.  

As part of the active Ebola surveillance system in place to respond to this ongoing outbreak in DRC, thousands of alerts are still being investigated every day. An alert is a person who has symptoms that could be due to Ebola, or any death in a high risk area that could have been as result of Ebola.

As with all confirmed cases, efforts are already underway to find everyone who may have been in contact with the person in order to offer them the vaccine and monitor their health status.

“WHO has worked side by side with health responders from the DRC for over 18 months and our teams are right now supporting the investigation into this latest case,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic adds challenges, we will continue this joint effort until we can declare the end of this Ebola outbreak together,” she added.

The news of the confirmed case came minutes after the conclusion of a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola in DRC. The Emergency Committee will reconvene next week in order to re-evaluate their recommendations in light of this new information.

Prior to this, the last person who was confirmed to have Ebola in DRC tested negative twice and was discharged from a treatment centre on 3 March 2020.

As at Friday, 3,456 confirmed and probable cases and 2,276 deaths have occurred as a result of the outbreak.

In a related development, the global health body says it is working with affected countries on strategies for gradually and safely easing stay-at-home restrictions occasioned by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr Ghebreyesus stated this at a news conference in Geneva on Friday, as posted on the agency’s twitter handle, @WHO.

Ghebreyesus said the agency would consider important factors while working with affected countries on easing the restrictions.

“First, that transmission is controlled; second, that sufficient public health and medical services are available; third, that outbreak risks in special settings like long-term care facilities are minimised.

“Fourth, that preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools and other places where it’s essential for people to go; fifth, that importation risks can be managed.

“And sixth – and I cannot over-emphasise this point – that communities are fully aware and engaged in the transition.

“Every single person has a role to play in ending this pandemic,” he said.

He, however, warned the affected countries against lifting restrictions too quickly.

“I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions; WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone.

“At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence.

“The way down can be as dangerous as the way up, if not managed properly,’’ he said.

The director-general said the agency was particularly concerned by the large numbers of infections reported among health workers.

According to him, in some countries, there are reports of more than 10 per cent of health workers being infected.

He said this is an alarming trend.

“When health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk.

“Evidence from China, Italy, Singapore, Spain and the United States is helping us to understand why this is happening, and what we can do about it.

“It shows that some health workers are actually being infected outside health facilities, in their homes or communities.

“Within health facilities, common problems are the late recognition of COVID-19, or lack of training or inexperience in dealing with respiratory pathogens.

“Many health workers are also being exposed to large numbers of patients in long shifts with inadequate rest periods,’’ Ghebreyesus said.

He, however, said the evidence also showed that when health workers wore Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the right way, infections could be prevented.

“That makes it even more important that health workers are able to access the masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.

“To support countries, WHO has launched three tools to help managers and planners calculate the health workers, supplies and equipment that will be needed for the increase in COVID-19 patients,’’ Ghebreyesus said.

According to him, nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO and more than 92,000 deaths globally.

“In the past week, we’ve seen a welcome slowing in some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, like Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

“On a personal note, I was pleased to see my friend Boris Johnson is no longer in intensive care. I wish him all the best – as I wish the best for everyone who is facing what he faced.

“At the same time, we’ve seen an alarming acceleration in other countries.

“I want to take a moment to highlight Africa, where we are seeing the spread of the virus to rural areas. We are now seeing clusters of cases and community spread in more than 16 countries.

“We anticipate severe hardship for already overstretched health systems, particularly in rural areas, which normally lack the resources of those in cities.

“As Dr Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, said yesterday, this means countries need to localise the response, by urgently strengthening the existing public health and primary health care infrastructure in countries,” he added.

Ghebreyesus said the recent meeting of the G20 countries expressed strong support for Africa, which must be expedited even though the numbers in Africa are still relatively small but accelerating.

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