Earlier this month, the head of the World Health Organization disclosed that a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is “inevitable,” noting however that a new vaccine, coupled with rapid-response measures, mean that it will be more effectively contained.
Speaking at an event in the Guinean capital Conakry this month, dedicated to individuals who fought to control the disease in their communities, WHO chief Margaret Chan thanked the Guinean government for its role in developing the vaccine, which was announced in December 2016, but added a note of caution. Speaking to an audience of scientists, Ebola response coordinators and dignitaries, Chad warned that “scientists do not yet know exactly where in nature the Ebola virus hides between outbreaks, but nearly all experts agree that another outbreak is inevitable,” adding that “when this occurred, the world will be far better prepared.”
In a major clinical trial using an innovative “ring,” or group method, nearly 6,000 people in Guinea were given the test vaccine in 2015, during which not one of them contracted the disease. Chan disclosed last week that even with an “initially limited” first batch of the vaccine, health authorities had another option in their arsenal “beyond isolation and quarantine.”
The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since then, it has erupted periodically in outbreaks of up to a couple of hundred cases, mainly across western and eastern Africa. The most deadliest outbreak of the virus occurred in early 2014, when a handful of infections in southern Guinea mushroomed rapidly into an epidemic. Officials have disclosed that that outbreak began with a child in December 2013. It would go on to kill at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and left thousands more survivors with long-term health problems. At the time, the WHO was criticized for its slow response and for failing to grasp the gravity of the outbreak.
Chan also emphasized that anther positive outcome of the Ebola crisis was renewed focus and funding for vaccines against other contagious diseases, including the fatal Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as well as the Lassa and Nipah viruses.
On 9 June, the latest Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the last country still affected by the deadliest flare-up in history, was declared over.
Liberia effectively passed the World Health Organization (WHO) threshold of 42 days – twice the incubation period for the virus, since the last known patient tested negative for the second time. Last week, the WHO declared an end to the latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea, however it warned that a recurrence of the virus remained a threat as previous declarations announcing the end of Ebola flare-ups in West Africa have been followed by the emergence of new cases. While in late March, the WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak no longer constituted an international emergency, new cases emerged in Liberia just two days later.
The Ebola epidemic began in Guinea in December 2013 and killed more than 11,300 people. It devastated economies and health systems in the worst affected countries in West Africa and tested the world’s capacity to respond to a global health emergency. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. In all, the virus affected ten countries, including the United States and Spain, with more than 28,000 cases reported – virtually all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The WHO has drawn criticism for its delayed response to the Ebola crisis and its failure to identify the outbreak.
On Wednesday 1 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Guinea has reached the end of active Ebola virus transmission, in what is the second such declaration from the country at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
The proclamation was made because the person with Guinea’s last confirmed case tested negative for the second time more than 42 days ago. Guinea will now effectively enter a 90-day period of heightened surveillance in order to make sure of the identification of any new cases before they spread to others.
During the most recent outbreak, seven confirmed and three possible cases of the virus surfaced between 17 March and 6 April. At lest five people died. Another three cases were recorded in neighboring Liberia in a woman who had travelled from Guinea along with her two children. The WHO has disclosed that the flare-up seems to have occurred after a person came into contact with infected body fluid from an Ebola survivor. Since the virus remains active in certain body fluids for months, the WHO cautions that the risk of outbreaks remain, however on Tuesday, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier disclosed that the organization is confident that affected countries are prepared and can deal with flare-ups efficiently.
Guinea is believed to be where the world’s worst Ebola outbreak occurred. The outbreak initially emerged in December 2014 and would later spread to two other neighboring countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone. Guinea first declared itself free of transmission in December 2015.
Health officials reported on Friday, 1 April that a woman has died of Ebola in Liberia, months after the West African country was declared free of the deadly disease. The announcement also comes weeks after neighbouring Guinea also recorded a new flare-up. Just days later, on 3 April, officials confirmed that the woman’s five-year-old son has tested positive for Ebola.
According to a senior health ministry official, “a young lady in her early thirties died of Ebola yesterday at the Redemption Hospital,” adding that the government was preparing to release a statement on the new case. A hospital worker also confirmed that the woman had tested positive for the disease and died on Thursday, 31 March. Authorities are now checking everyone the woman was in contact with and ten health care workers from the hospital where the woman died are currently under observation. A source has disclosed that there are strong indications that the woman came from Guinea where they border was closed, adding that the woman had travelled with three of her children.
The new cases are a setback for Liberia, which had been declared free from transmission for a third time on 14 January. The region also continues to see a number of small flare-ups even after countries have received the all-clear. Liberia was first declared free of the disease in May 2015, however new cases emerged twice, effectively forcing officials to rese the clock in a nation where more than 4,800 people have died from the deadly virus. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Ebola was no longer an international health emergency, warning however that flare-ups, at decreasing frequency, were expected. Last month Guinea documented a series of new infections, highlighting the difficulty in stamping out the lingering epidemic. There are currently no known cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, however in early April, the authorities announced that they have increased security measures along with screenings and surveillance points at all border crossings with Guinea.
More than 11,300 people died over the past two years in the world’s worst Ebola epidemic on record, with nearly all of them dying in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) voicing confidence that remaining isolated cases of Ebola could be contained, health officials confirmed on Wednesday 30 March that a resurgence of the deadly virus in a rural Guinean community has killed seven people. The news comes just a day after the WHO reported that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa no longer constituted a international emergency.
The announcement of new cases demonstrates the continued difficulty of managing the aftermath of the virus. The death of a man, two of his wives and his daughter were announced by Guinean health authorities two weeks ago. On Wednesday, they confirmed that a third wife and a mother-in-law also died after becoming infected in the village of Korokpara. According to Fode Tass Sylla, spokesman for Guinea’s Ebola response unit, “on March 30, there are nine registered cases and seven deaths: three suspected and four confirmed.” Outside the family, a man died on 22 March after testing positive for the virus in the city of N’Zerekore. Sylla further disclosed that two more people, one suspected case and one confirmed, were receiving treatment at a dedicated Ebola facility in southern Guinea, not far from the border with Liberia. More than a thousand people who are believed to have come into contact with the victims are being monitored for symptoms and offered support by the authorities, with restrictions placed on their movements.
While the country was declared free of Ebola transmission at the end of last year, a significant number of deaths are believed to have gone unreported and flare-ups relating to the persistence of the virus in survivors’ bodies pose ongoing challenges. A WHO report on Ebola, which was released on Wednesday, disclosed that the virus present in the blood of one of the confirmed cases was “closely relate to (the) virus that circulated in southeastern Guinea in November 2014.” In its report, the WHO warned that “additional cases are likely because of the large number of contacts. Those most at risk are also being vaccinated against the virus.