Guinea Ebola death toll rises to five as vaccine roll-out begins

Government tracking down people who potentially had contact with Ebola victims and will rush vaccines to affected areas.

Five people have now died from Ebola in Guinea as the government launched an urgent contact-tracing search after the disease’s latest reappearance.

Guinea announced the outbreak on Saturday – the first in West Africa since a 2013-2016 epidemic that left more than 11,300 dead in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

According to an epidemiological report by the country’s health agency on Monday, five people have succumbed to the virus, rising from a death toll of four reported earlier in the day.

Only one of the victims was confirmed positive for Ebola with the remaining four listed as “probable cases”.

Two other people have tested positive, the health agency said, while another 10 are showing symptoms.

The first confirmed victim was a 51-year-old nurse, who died in late January. She was from Nzerekore near the town of Gouecke in the forested south of the country.

Two of the nurse’s brothers who attended her funeral on February 1 have also died, a health official who requested anonymity said.

It remains unclear who the other victims are, or whether they attended the nurse’s funeral.

Vaccine roll-out

United Nations Guinea tweeted that the first flight carrying experts and sanitary equipment arrived in Nzerekore on Monday.

Prime Minister Ibrahima Kassory Fofana said Guinea had “set up structures to deal with this type of epidemic”.

“No panic, let’s respect the sanitary instructions. Ebola will be defeated again,” he tweeted.

Ebola causes severe fever and, in the worst cases, unstoppable bleeding. It is transmitted through close contact with bodily fluids, and people who live with or care for patients are most at risk.

An NGO official who spoke to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity said he was concerned because health workers had not yet identified who infected the nurse.

But Alfred George Ki-Zerbo, the World Health Organization’s representative in Guinea, said Ebola vaccines could arrive in the poor nation of 13 million “within 72 hours”.

“Our priority is to complete the risk assessment on the ground and to analyse the cross-border dimension,” he said, referring to the area near the Liberian border where the virus re-emerged.

He added there were some constraints in getting the vaccines to Guinea quickly, but authorities were working on the issues so the jabs could be available by next week for a targeted vaccination campaign.

International organisations – including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and medical charity ALIMA – said they were sending rapid response teams to the region to assist.

Guinea’s health agency is also increasing its capacity in the area.

Overcoming disease

Health Minister Remy Lamah said on Monday that, unlike during the deadliest known outbreak in 2013-2016, Guinea had the means to halt the resurgence of the virus.

“In 2013, it took us months to understand that we were dealing with an Ebola epidemic while this time, in less than four days, we were able to do analysis and have the results,” Lamah said.

“Our medical teams are trained and seasoned. We have the means to quickly overcome this disease.”

Meanwhile, an Ebola vaccination campaign started in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Monday, which has also seen new Ebola cases in recent weeks.

“There is hope that with new tools and the experience and lessons learned, this could maybe work better this time,” said Ki-Zerbo, underlining the need to involve local communities and maintain communication with them.

Neighbouring Sierra Leone has sent workers to watch border entry points in coordination with Guinea authorities, a health ministry spokesman said.

The second-deadliest known outbreak was declared over last year in DRC, but it also saw a resurgence this month.

“What worries us the most is the dangerousness of the disease given what we experienced five years ago. We do not want to relive such a situation,” Lamah said.

Source: News Agencies