SA ready to respond to Ebola

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Johannesburg – Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi last night met with the Portfolio Committee on Health,  where he briefed members on the country’s state of preparedness for and response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

“... We have always had confidence and known that you will be able to ensure that the citizens of the country are safe and more especially, that they are aware.

“All of us have the responsibility of ensuring that communities are empowered. As we are playing an oversight role, we will be doing that with confidence,” said chairperson of the portfolio committee, Mary-Ann Lindelwa Dunjwa.

Dunjwa said the Health Department is “on top of things”.

She advised it to strengthen its communications by visiting major radio stations in each province, where people can call in and ask questions about the disease.

Meanwhile, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) Trade Union has urged people using social media to stop spread rumours about the confirmation of Ebola cases in South Africa, as this causes unnecessary panic.

“Rumours such as these are causing panic and confusion in our nation. We call upon the nation and especially health professionals not to make light of a disease that has claimed over 1 000 victims already.

“It is only the national Health Department or designated officials, who will make such an announcement if ever there is such a need,” said SAMA President, Dr Phophi Ramathuba.

A total of 1 848 cases and 1 013 deaths have been confirmed since the outbreak was reported in West Africa in March.

Minister Motsoaledi reiterated that there are no cases of Ebola reported in South Africa.

“We [are not] at the level of panic…” Minister Motsoaledi said.

On 8 August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Ebola in West Africa an international public health emergency that requires international support to affected countries.

Strengthening capacity for diagnostic labs

WHO recommended that countries, which are not affected, but with a potential for transmission, must strengthen the level of epidemic preparedness and response.

It also recommended the strengthening of capacity for diagnostic laboratories for EVD, and the training of community health workers on case management and infection prevention and control, amongst others.

In South Africa, the Department of Health has written a ministerial letter to convene an inter-ministerial committee on EVD.

The preparedness activities are coordinated at two levels: national level by the Multi-sectoral National Outbreak Response Team and provincial level by the Provincial Outbreak Response Team.

Outbreak response teams trained

All provinces in 44 districts have trained outbreak response teams and regular meetings are convened at national level to monitor the EVD outbreak and preparedness measures.

“The department monitored the risk and assessed the situation as the outbreak unfolded. Risk of infection for travellers is low, since [EVD is] not transmitted through casual contact. However, preparedness and response measures are needed due to the spread of EVD cases to capital cities…” Minister Motsoaledi said.

Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have been identified as the provinces at the highest risk for importation of cases. Priority ports of entry are OR Tambo, Lanseria, Cape Town and King Shaka Airports.

The surveillance for viral haemorrhagic fevers, in particular EVD, has been strengthened at ports of entry and thermal scanners have been installed at the OR Tambo and Lanseria Airports.

The National Health Laboratory Service and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases has also intensified laboratory surveillance and the port health services, including public and private health care practitioners, are on alert for any ill persons that have travelled to very high risk areas.

Each province has designated health facilities to manage EVD cases in 11 designated hospitals. Personal protective equipment (PPE) has also been placed at designated hospitals.

The 11 hospitals are Polokwane in Limpopo; Rob Ferreira in Mpumalanga, Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko in Guateng; Addington in KZN; Klerksdorp in North West; Pelonomi in Free State, Kimberley in Northern Cape; Frere in East London; Livingstone in Port Elizabeth Eastern Cape and Tygerberg in Western Cape.

PPE kits include one overall, a pair of over shoes, a pair of N95 masks, two pairs of gloves, one white plastic apron and one set of goggles.

Approximately 100 registered nurses at the South African Military Health Service have been trained in (biosafety level) BSL-4 isolation techniques. Aeromedical evacuation teams have also been trained in BSL-4 isolation techniques, and they are able to collect and transport Ebola patients by air using transport isolator and intensive care equipment.

Meanwhile, WHO has authorised the use of experimental drugs to fight Ebola. A 12-member ethics panel convened by the United Nations health agency has reached “unanimous consensus” that it is ethical to treat Ebola patients with experimental drugs to counter the largest, most severe and most complex outbreak of the virus in history. –