'Fear, instability made it difficult to control Ebola in Africa'

Kolkata, Feb 9: Fear associated with Ebola disease coupled with political instability made it difficult to control the deadly outbreak which has so far claimed around 9,000 lives in West Africa, an African public health official said Monday.

According to the latest WHO figures, the disease has now affected 22,525 people, with deaths reaching 9,004.


"From what we saw in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, most of the affected countries had political instability in the last few years that resulted in failure of health system," Mengistu Asnake, president, World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) told IANS here.

Asnake, an Ethiopian, is a public health specialist with over 25 years of experience. He is in the city to attend the 14th World Congress on Public Health (WCPH) as the co-chair of the Congress' Scientific Committee.

"It is very difficult to incorporate public health issues in the political system and major role of public health practitioners is to identify and advocatea bridge the gapa when we advocate we lobby for more resources," he said.

At least 3,600 children have been orphaned due to the Ebola outbreak in West African countries, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) has said.

A Unicef report Friday said that the number covers those who have lost both their parents in the hardest-hit countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak that began in December last year has left almost 9,000 children with just a single parent and caused a further 3,800 to lose their main carer, Unicef added.

Asnake said the countries have to learn from the experience and improve warning systems and preparedness.

"One of the lessons is strong health systems make things better. The whole issue of early warning and preparedness is very important.

"We have evidence to tell us how it is transmitted, how we can prevent it but some of the fears related to the disease, the beliefs and political situation were dominant factors, so that also makes the situation difficult in controlling these types of diseases," he said.

He said the concern is to address the evidence in hand and do things accordingly.

"For a working health system, you need to have a stable political system but at the same time a political system which understands how the evidence can be implemented.

"If you have clear evidence and the political system is implementing it in a different way so you are not implementing what you have as evidence," he said, adding as of last week there have been 9,000 deaths in the region.

"In the last few weeks, number of cases declined, number of deaths declined. There is a more or less containment of the disease and it is also high time to learn from the past and prepare for the future," he said.

Ebola is a form of haemorrhagic fever, symptoms of which are diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding. The virus spreads through direct contact with infected blood, faeces or sweat. It can also be spread through sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.


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