News Column

World Bank Pledges U.S.$200 Million to Fight Ebola in West Africa

August 6, 2014

Yinka Shokunbi and Ekene Okoro

The World Bank Group on Tuesday pledged $200 million to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola disease in West Africa.

The amount would also help communities affected by the epidemic cope with the economic impact of the crisis, and improve public health systems throughout West Africa.

A statement from the bank said with the latest death toll from the West African sub-region now at 887, the emergency funding would help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone reduce the spread of the disease.

It quoted the World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, a medical doctor experienced in treatment of infectious diseases, to have said the new financing commitment was in response to a call from both the three African countries hardest-hit by Ebola and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for immediate assistance to contain the outbreak.

He said the bank would also step up social safety net assistance for affected communities and families and help to build up public health systems in West Africa to strengthen the region's disease control capacity more generally.

Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, had on Monday said one of the doctors that treated the Liberian-born American, Patrick Sawyer, who died of the Ebola disease, had contracted the virus.

Chukwu said the discovery is now the second case of Ebola virus disease in Nigeria, noting that about eight other persons who came into contact with the late Sawyer, and who had developed the Ebola symptoms, have been quarantined while 70 others were under surveillance.

The World Bank boss, in the statement, said he would brief the bank group's Board of Executive Directors as soon as possible on the latest state of the epidemic and seek their approval for the new emergency package.

"I am very worried that many more lives are at risk unless we can stop this Ebola epidemic in its tracks.

"I have been monitoring its deadly impact around the clock and am deeply saddened at how it has ravaged health workers, families and communities, disrupted normal life, and has led to a breakdown of already weak health systems in the three countries.

"The international community needs to act fast to contain and stop this Ebola outbreak. I believe this new World Bank emergency funding will provide critically needed support for the response to stop the further transmission of Ebola within Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, which would prevent new infections in neighbouring at-risk countries," the statement said.

Explaining how the new emergency fund would be used, Yong Kim said the new financial pledge would pay for urgently needed medical supplies, salaries for medical staff, and other vital materials to stabilise the health system, while also helping communities cope with financial hardship caused by the epidemic.

The new package, he added, would also help to build up the region's disease surveillance and laboratory networks to guard against future epidemic outbreaks.

WHO leadership, Yong Kim said, was vital to international and regional efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, which is West Africa's first-ever outbreak of Ebola virus disease but has become the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of this disease.

The World Bank Group, he said, would work in close coordination with the WHO and other partners such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

An initial World Bank-IMF assessment for Guinea projects a full percentage point fall in GDP growth from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent.

Agriculture has also been affected in all three countries, as rural workers have fled farming areas in the affected zones. To date, there has been no measurable impact on the food supply.

Meanwhile, British Airways has suspended flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

It expressed fears for customers and other stakeholders, following the spread of the deadly disease.

It became the second airline to do so after Emirates, on Sunday, the first major international airline to suspend its services to the region.

BA normally operates a four-times-a-week service from Heathrow to Freetown in Sierra Leone, with a connection on to Monrovia in Liberia.

The Independent of London quoted a BA spokesperson as saying: "We have temporarily suspended our flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until August 31 2014 due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries.

"The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will keep the routes under constant review in the coming weeks."

Airports globally are on high alert for signs of sickness among passengers arriving from West Africa, and a health scare was reported at New York'sMount Sinai Hospital after a man arrived with a high fever and a stomach ache.

He was later described as being in "good condition" and, though tests for Ebola were carried out, doctors said it was unlikely he would be proven positive.

Lagos State Government also announced on Tuesday that it has begun compilation of all the primary and secondary contacts of the female doctor who tested positive to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which she contracted from the late Liberian, Sawyer, as part of measures to curb the spread of the disease.

State Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris, disclosed this at a new conference where he gave update on the EVD outbreak in Lagos.

According to Idris, the contact tracking is one of the necessary precautionary measures to curb the spread of the deadly disease, saying, "It is pertinent to trace all those other people who have also come in contact with the infected doctor whether within her family or outside from the period she became exposed to the late sawyer till she developed the disease.

"We therefore need more volunteers to assist in getting to these people within the shortest possible time."

He said, already the names and addresses of all those who came in contact with her have been taken.

"We now have to get to them, monitor their health too and possibly take their blood samples for testing; it is not a panicky measure but it is a very necessary measure to take," Idris added.

The commissioner, however, reiterated that so far, only one Nigerian has tested positive to the deadly virus while eight of those who equally had contacts with the late Sawyer have developed symptoms but still have their blood samples sent abroad for confirmatory tests.

On the prospect of the new vaccine being tested in the U.S., Idris said "there is a basic scientific procedure for getting a vaccine developed, tested and approved for universal use".

"At the moment, this vaccine is in the experimental stage, and there is still the period of monitoring to know what side effects there would be and this takes time; however, Nigeria is already discussing the protocol to get some of the trials to be tested here but we need volunteers and when we get to that stage everyone will be informed".

Idris urged members of the public to be vigilant, especially with regards to relating with people who are very ill.

"EVD becomes highly contagious once a victim has begun to show veritable symptoms of the disease such as fever, sore throat, diarrhea among other.

"There is no panic as long as basic precautionary measures such as hand washing, adoption of appropriate waste management and enhanced personal and environmental hygiene are adhered to.

"This is a call for everyone to be vigilant, especially with regard to relating with people who are ill."

The commissioner acknowledged the precautionary measures taken by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) which has begun its August Convention of large congregation of people from across the globe.

"Our teams have visited both the RCCG Convention Ground and the Church of All Nation (aka Synagogue) because both have been hosting large congregations from across the West Africa and beyond and we have received considerable support to help prevent the spread of this disease which could happen where there are such large gatherings."

The commissioner again appealled to medical doctors to reconsider their decision to continue with the ongoing strike, saying it will be more difficult to control the spread of the disease if indigenous health workers shy away from helping the suspected and infected cases.

He noted that more personal protective equipment are being procured for use by volunteer workers who would be assisting at the Mainland Hospital which has been designated as Ebola station to help in treatment patients who would be quarantined.

He added: "Should the hospital become overwhelmed with patients, which we do not pray to happen, we are considering another location to further help take care of sick patients, but for now, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) is not an Ebola centre."

Meanwhile, doctors in Saudi Arabia are testing a patient suspected of having contracted Ebola during a trip to West Africa, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

The Saudi man was admitted to hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after showing symptoms of haemorrhagic fever upon his return from Sierra Leone.

The patient, in his 40s, is in critical condition and has symptoms "similar to that of Ebola infection", the ministry said.

Also on Tuesday, the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) said it has the capacity to safely diagnose any specimen from animal or human patient.

Executive Director of NVRI, Mohammed Ahmed, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Vom, Plateau.

Ahmed said the institute has a well-fitted modular laboratory and reagents to do the job.

The institute has facilities and well-trained expertise that can safely handle samples brought here and give the right diagnosis.

"We also have positive precious suit that would protect the laboratory scientists from any contact with the room to be used for the diagnosis," he said.

He said that Ebola was just another zoonotic disease with humans and chimpanzees as mere accidental hosts of the virus.

According to him, bats are key bearers of Ebola virus.

He explained that for humans to contract and spread it, there has to be an interface with monkeys and baboons.

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Source: AllAfrica

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