Congo: Multisectoral programme set to study, fight Ebola

BRAZZAVILLE, 11 March (IRIN) - A multi-sectoral programme for the research and prevention of the highly contagious and often-lethal Ebola virus in northern Republic of Congo (ROC) was adopted on Thursday at the conclusion of three-day meeting in the capital, Brazzaville.
The programme will be overseen by a newly created permanent coordination committee, whose mission will be to assure coordination among the different groups involved and the elaboration and implementation of a plan of action.

The conference was attended by some 70 medical researchers, anthropologists, virologists, physicians, veterinarians, and representatives from tropical disease research centres in Europe, the US, and from the UN, seeking a better understanding of the virus and its environment.

A follow-up meeting among potential donors to support the initiative is due to be held on 18 - 19 March in Washington, DC, organised by Conservation International.

The conclusions of the conference were to be submitted to the Ministry of Forestry Resources for inclusion in their own plans of action.

Specific actions to be taken to control the emergence of the virus and new epidemics among humans included reinforcing basic health structures; applying existing laws on hunting and sales of bush-meat; educating people living in forest regions about the risks of contact with wild animals, particularly apes, and the risks of contact with humans suspected of infection; creating emergency alert networks, a common health information system, and mechanisms for coordination and follow-up; and improving access to remote regions to facilitate provision of aid to the sick.

With regard to research into the disease, the participants recommended identifying all researchers in the subregion and reinforcing collaboration among them; creating committees on the ethics of animal and human research; organising an interstate system of collection and management of biological samples; reinforcing scientific and technical capacities; preventing and managing the disease among humans; researching the virology and pathology of the disease, the impact and circulations of the virus among animal populations, and identifying the reservoir of the virus and ecological conditions favouring its emergence.

The Brazzaville conference was supported by the Ecosystemes Forestiers d'Afrique Centrale, a regional conservation programme financed by the EU; the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society, two NGOs dedicated to the protection of wildlife; the World Health Organisation (WHO); the international medical relief NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres; and the Institut Pasteur.

By 8 March 2003, 115 probable cases of Ebola virus were reported in the ROC, with the death toll rising to 97, according to the WHO, with the districts of Kelle and Mbomo of Cuvette-Ouest Region being affected.

Ebola is characterised by fever, diarrhoea, severe blood loss, and intense fatigue, and transmitted through direct contact with body fluids of infected persons or of other primates. There is no cure, and between 50 percent and 90 percent of victims die. The best way of halting its spread is through prevention and prompt detection and isolation of suspected cases.

Authorities were first alerted to a possible Ebola outbreak among gorillas in late 2002 when a band of them in the region began dying. Tests carried out on the bodies confirmed that they had died of Ebola. The current outbreak is believed to have been caused by villagers eating infected primates.


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