Sierra Leone + 2 more

Complacency threatens Ebola containment

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Complacency could cost lives despite successful efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are warning.

Despite substantial success in combatting the spread of the virus, difficulties surrounding safe burials, local customs, public understanding, cross-border movement and geography mean the virus's spread could increase.

"With so much cross-border travel continuing between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the virus can resurface anywhere, anytime. We must remain vigilant until the final case is cleared," said Gillian McCarthy of the Red Cross Africa desk in Dublin.

In the week ending April 9, a total of 30 new confirmed cases of the Ebola virus reported which is the lowest weekly figure since last May.

However, a 45-day state of health emergency has been declared in several Guinean prefectures and restrictions on movement are in place in the capital Conakry.

As the emergency enters its second year, annual figures show over 10,500 confirmed deaths from the virus out of 25,550 suspected, probable and confirmed cases in the three main affected countries; Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. There were also fatalities in Nigeria, Senegal and Mali and related deaths in the USA and Spain where two aid workers died after contracting the disease in West Africa.

Unsafe burial

The bodies of Ebola victims are highly infectious, and funeral preparations and ceremonies are a significant source of infection. Specially trained Red Cross teams have, to date, taken the lead in providing 17,312 safe and dignified burials but unsafe burials continue to take place in Guinea and Sierra Leone, with 21 reported in the past week.

Vigilance is required in case management, surveillance and contact tracing to get to zero cases and stay there during the 42-day Ebola surveillance period before countries can be declared Ebola-free. Until then, one mismanaged case can cause a resurgence.

The IFRC has launched 16 Ebola-related operations, with a budget of US$175 million, aimed at reaching 39 million people. The appeals are currently 77 per cent funded.

Carrying out prevention and monitoring activities in the three worst-affected countries (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia) simultaneously is critical to stopping the epidemic. But the Red Cross is also working in surrounding countries to prepare and educate communities should the virus spread.

“The Ebola crisis may have subsided but a global threat remains. Ebola is so infectious that a single slip could see us back where we were at the start of the crisis this time last year.

“Funds are still needed to cover operations on the ground and I would encourage anyone thinking of making a donation to do so. Just because the headlines are not so big doesn’t mean the threat has gone away,” Ms McCarthy said.