The current outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa is the deadliest on record and has killed more people than the previous outbreaks combined. The high mortality of the virus is instilling fear in many populations in affected and neighbouring countries. Moreover myths and misconceptions about the virus are hampering effective response efforts.
SWHAP partners in East Africa and the DRC are conducting awareness sessions on Ebola. These sessions are highlighting in particular, how the virus is spread, symptoms of the virus and precautions that can be taken to prevent infection. The awareness sessions are complementary to government initiatives to sensitise their populations on Ebola and to provide credible sources of information relevant to local contexts.
The awareness sessions in the DRC are addressing the concerns of employees who travel to affected regions as part of their duties. Ericsson, a communications company in the DRC, is looking at ways in which it can enhance efforts to provide access to practical information, through available hotlines, regional newsletters and reinforcing hygienic practices in their working environment. Additional efforts are being made to sensitise the private sector through the HIV business coalition and other actors.
The outbreak in the DRC is genetically unrelated to the strain currently circulating in West Africa. The DRC has been experienced seven Ebola outbreaks since 1976, when the virus was first discovered, and has developed successful strategies for the management and containment of the virus. These experiences are being shared with other African states.
Transmission and Symptoms
Ebola is “transmitted to people from infected wild animals and spreads in human populations through human to human transmission” (World Health Organisation). Transmission is through direct contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids and objects such as needles which have been contaminated with infected body fluids. Symptoms of Ebola may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure. These symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. A person is only infectious once symptoms start to show. At present there is no licenced vaccine or specific treatment and doctors can only treat the symptoms of the virus but not the virus itself. The World Health Organisation has however authorised experimental treatments and several vaccines are in the process of being tested. Family and friends or health care workers in close contact with Ebola patients are at highest risk of infection. Early screening has been shown to improve health outcomes.
- Practice careful hygiene. Avoid contact with blood and body fluids
- Avoid handling items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids
- Avoid funerals or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids and raw meat prepared from these animals
- If you have travelled to an area with known Ebola cases, monitor your health for 21 days and seek immediate healthcare if you develop any of the symptoms of Ebola listed above.
Adapted from: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/prevention/index.html
As we have seen in the HIV response, providing accurate information is the first step in addressing the stigma and discrimination that affected populations’ experience. For more information on Ebola follow the link below.