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There is no Ebola case or suspected Ebola case in Ethiopia, was the clear message that was communicated at a meeting held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday October 17. According to the Ministry’s Spokesperson Ambassador Dina Mufti, recent rumors of Ebola entering Ethiopia are false.
“The recent news about the presence of the disease in Ethiopia was a malicious propaganda aimed at creating panic in the country. It was the making of individuals affiliated with the Eritrean government that is harboring animosity towards Ethiopia. It is a baseless rumor proved to be untrue,” Dina said.
He further stated that, as soon as the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was heard, the Ethiopian government felt the need for taking urgent measure which led to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalgne to instruct his Deputy Demeke Mekonnen to urgently form a National Committee composed of pertinent Ministries and institutions to deal with the task of preventing the disease from entering to the country.
“The National Committee, which the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affaires is also part of, is entrusted with the task of cooperating with countries in our region so as to be effective in preventing the disease. The Committee has been doing its best to prevent this disease. There is a round the clock screening taking place at points of international entries,” he said.
According to Dr. Daddi Jima, Deputy Director General of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute who gave a presentation regarding Ethiopia’s preparedness to prevent or control the virus, the country has been vigilant enough in terms of surveillance system.
“Since the outbreak of the virus in West Africa, we have carried out screenings at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport as well as at 8 major boarder areas,” said Daddi.
He said that screenings are done using different technologies; at the beginning of the outbreak, a simple hand held technology was used at the airport but now that technology has been changed and two thermal cameras are installed at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
“We have a system where we can trace people that are coming from at risk areas especially from West Africa as well as other people who have traveled to Ebola affected countries. We linked our field Epidemiology trainees to this system so that they can follow travelers who came from countries that are considered to be of high risk. The trainees record the temperatures of such travelers twice per day, so that they can know if they are safe,” Daddi said.
He said that different rumors are being received from communities as well as health workers. “Each and every rumor is being verified by experts using the clinical definition and geographical definition that was set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Based on those set definitions, there are currently no Ebola cases in Ethiopia” he added.
It was stated that Ethiopia is among countries that historically have had cases of Ebola or Marburg virus, another hemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola which has currently broke out in Uganda. It was said it is not exactly known which one of the two viruses the country had historically, as the symptoms are similar.
The reservoirs of the Ebola virus are fruit bats which are found in different countries including Ethiopia. From the bats, Ebola usually transmits to animals such as chimpanzees and monkeys. The virus may transmit to humans from the bats or from the bats to wild animals and then to humans.
According to Dr. Daddi, the human to human transmission usually follows three scenarios; the first one is direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected person, the second one is direct contact with an environment that has been contaminated and the third one is through burial ceremonies which are usually very contagious.
“The virus load in dead bodies is very high. If the virus comes to Ethiopia, transmission through dead bodies of Ebola infected persons will be a problem as the country has a tradition of washing dead bodies among other things, before burials. So we will take this as a very high risk way of transmission for our country and our health education and communication will target this practice,” Daddi said.
The typical symptoms of Ebola includes high fever, sever headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. It was stated that these symptoms are sometimes accompanied by skin rash and hemorrhaging. People with these symptoms can be classified with having Ebola but, Ebola is not the only disease with these symptoms; many others diseases have similar symptoms.
The incubation period of the virus is from 2 to 21 days but commonly 8 to 10 days. During the incubation period, patients are not contagious and cannot transmit the disease to others.
“The case definition for Ebola combines two things; one is clinical criteria and the other epidemiological risk factors. Only people who have the symptoms, those that have traveled to Ebola affected countries or those who have come in contact with a person with the disease as well as those who have come in contact with mentioned transmitting animals are considered Ebola patients. This is one of the things that we would like everybody to know because most of the rumors that are coming to us just single out the clinical symptoms and report it as Ebola,” Daddi explained. He said that, in order to avoid panic, the clinical criteria have to be combined with the Epidemiological criteria.
It was stated that Ethiopia is currently in the process of building the capacity to diagnose Ebola. “Among our staff, five of them have already taken trainings in Ebola diagnosis in South Africa. Now we are collaborating with a laboratory located in the Sebeta area to have a biosafety level laboratory to diagnose the virus. Within two or three days maximum, we will start using this laboratory,” Daddi said.
According to the presentation at the meeting on Friday, so far 50 health workers have been given trainings and they are currently actively working at screening areas as well as practicing at isolation centers that have already been built.
Around 250 health workers from private and government hospitals and health centers in Addis Ababa, 365 people from the airport, more than 22 people from Regional Health Bureau Public Health Emergency Unit and 145 hotel managers were trained.
The training mainly focused on how to identify people with Ebola symptoms and report it as well as how to train their staff on how to handle such cases. Trainings have also been given to police departments and military personals.
“Currently we screen travelers coming from 21 countries at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. We also do screening of all passengers who have got travel history to Ebola affected areas during previous 21 days. If the airline is coming from Europe and there is a traveler on it with a travel history to Liberia for example, then that person will be screened and will be subjected to fill traveler’s health form. With that form we follow the person for the duration of time he is within the country,” said Daddi.
There is also a Hotline (8335) available for calls from the public as well as health workers requesting information about the disease for their own awareness or to report rumors of people with possible symptoms and signs of the disease. The hotline currently works until midnight but there are plans to make the service available 24 hours soon.
In terms of logistics, personal protective equipment is stated to be one of the challenging area and currently there are about 2000 personal protective equipments but more than 28,000 is being procured and will be delivered in two to three days to the country.
“Infection prevention materials for almost all health facilities in the country are also under procurement. We have more than 100 million gloves, for example, in our store which is enough for all health facilities including health centers. Logistics for isolation centers are also ready with laboratory supplies enough to diagnose around 2000 cases,” Daddi stated.
There are currently two isolation centers; one in Amanuel Hospital with more than 50 bed capacity and the potential to expand to more than 100 and Yeka Woreda 12 Health Center which has 15 bed capacity. The isolation centers are fully equipped and are ready to receive any suspected case, it was said.
“We have a lot of health education and awareness activities including media briefings, press releases, TV and radio spots, websites, social media and so on. Health education materials and other resources are uploaded to the websites. We have preparedness and response plan which has already been approved by the national committee. This plan has suggested two scenarios,” said Daddi.
According to him, the first scenario is where Addis Ababa is infected and local transmission begins from the city. The second one is where Addis Ababa as well regional states are infected. Based on the two scenarios, the preparedness and response plan has indicated a budget required to control the virus. Most of the budget will go to the personal protective equipments and to motivate health workers involved in the frontline response activity.