IFRC

Volunteers mobilized against Ebola in Gabon

Published: 14 December 2001 0:00 CET



Fifty specialised volunteers of the Red Cross of Gabon are working together with other national health personnel to contain an outbreak of Ebola. The viral haemorrhagic fever has killed at least ten people, including one health worker, in the north-eastern Ogooué Ivindo province on the border with Congo.

"Ebola spreads very quickly and erratically. At this very moment Red Cross volunteers are helping authorities to trace an infected woman who is known to have crossed the border into neighbouring Congo in search of a traditional healer", says Dr. Sandbladh. International Federation's Emergency Health Co-ordinator.

Two Federation Ebola specialists are on their way to Gabon to assist the National Society and the crisis cell established by authorities. To help the local Red Cross to fight the epidemic the Federation has released 50,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund whilst the regional delegation in Yaoundé, Cameroon, provided masks, gloves, rubber boots and protective clothing for the emergency teams.

The virus first struck the village of Ekata, 8 km from the border with Congo and quickly spread to three other villages Meddamba, Ntolo et Elaonene. The risk of the disease spreading further is high, as these villages are linked by road to larger towns like Mekambo and Makoku.

People have also related to Red Cross health posts that large numbers of corpses of primates; apes, gorillas and chimpanzees, have been discovered in the forest. This is most alarming since authorities believe that contaminated monkey meat consumed by the victims may be at the origin of the latest ebola outbreak.

"Ebola is a killer virus. Up to ninety per cent of those contaminated lose their lives. It is enough to touch an animal or a person infected with Ebola to catch the disease" says Dr. Hakan Sandbladh.

The volunteers play a crucial role in preventing the spread of the disease by providing information about the Ebola virus to people living in remote hamlets in the Ogooué Ivindo province, a jungle area inhabited by pygmies and hunter tribes where the latest cases of haemorrhagic fever have been identified.

"Ebola starts like a flu but rapidly develops into a serious body collapse including shock and internal and external bleeding. It is extremely important that volunteers reach and start educating the communities in the affected area", underlines Dr. Sandbladh.

Prevention includes instructing people to bury immediately all those believed to have died from the disease, and warning against cultural practices such as the ritual cleansing of bodies. The disease has often been spread through families and friends of infected people while they were feeding them and caring for them.

One hundred volunteers, including thirty from neighbouring Congo will be trained in the coming days and will join to raise awareness among the population in the areas at risk. They will distribute leaflets and explain the preventive measures but will also be able to trace and detect new Ebola cases where they occur.

Although people who survive Ebola become immune to the virus, they and the family members of those deceased from Ebola face the risk of being isolated and even expelled from their communities.

In Gabon, like after past crises, Red Cross volunteers will be the ones to fight stigma, provide psychological support to the victims and encourage sceptical communities to reintegrate them.

An investigation is also taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo where suspected cases of Ebola appeared in the Kasai Occidentale province.

Gabon was hit four times by Ebola during the past seven years. The virus first killed 45 out of the 60 cases detected in the capital Libreville and Boowe in 1994, before erupting in February and July 1996 and again 1999.




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