HEIGHTENED SURVEILLANCE

Kenya on high alert after DR Congo reports new Ebola case

Local health officials have been taking part in East African countries' simulation exercise to fight outbreak

In Summary

•“We have heightened our systems up to watch out for and control the threat of any disease including Ebola,” a Ministry of Health official told The Star.

•The last such execise took place in Arusha in May and was attended by more than 60 emergency management experts Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan.

Health workers in DR Congo have been vaccinating people against Ebola to prevent the spread of the virus.
Health workers in DR Congo have been vaccinating people against Ebola to prevent the spread of the virus.
Image: Handout

Kenya has put health officials at the border on high alert after the WHO said it is investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

DR Congo National Institute of Biomedical Research is in the process of testing samples to determine if the patient contracted Ebola, WHO said in a statement.

Kenya’s Ministry of Health has since asked health surveillance officials at points of entry to be on alert.

The suspected case is a 46-year-old woman who died on August 15 in North Kivu, a region bordering Uganda and Rwanda.

“We have heightened our systems up to watch out for and control the threat of any disease including Ebola,” a Ministry of Health official told the Star.

The DRC case received care at a hospital initially for other ailments, but subsequently, exhibited symptoms consistent with Ebola virus disease.

“While the analysis is ongoing, WHO is already on the ground supporting health officials to investigate the case and prepare for a possible outbreak,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said.

DRC declared the end of its Ebola outbreak in June this year.

The World Health Organization said its staff is working with health authorities to identify anyone who came in contact with the suspected case and monitor their health.

WHO said it will also work to ensure proper infection prevention and control measures are in place.

They want to ensure the treatment can be made available for those who need it and to raise awareness about Ebola among local communities.

Kenya is also taking part in East African countries' simulation exercises that focus on reinforcing disease surveillance at points of entry.

The last such exercise took place in Arusha in May and was attended by more than 60 emergency management experts from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan.

The East Africa region faces recurrent outbreaks and disasters. In the past three years alone the region faced outbreaks of diseases including cholera, Ebola, Marburg, measles and Rift Valley Fever. 

The simulation exercise training organised by the East African Community with support from WHO and German Cooperation (GIZ) focused on reinforcing disease surveillance at points of entry.

“Emergency preparedness is crucial not just to save lives and preserve health, entire economies can be devastated and livelihoods wiped out without effective response,” Dr Mary Stephen said.

“At WHO, we stand firmly behind national efforts to better respond and cope with the impacts of emergencies.”

Stephen is stationed at the Focal Point for International Health regulations at WHO regional office for Africa.

Although most of the East African countries have built capacities through responding to various emergencies annually, the frequency and scale of the emergencies continue to stretch available resources necessitating constant capacity development.

Additionally, the increased trade and travel among the countries present a risk of rapid cross-border spread of diseases.

The simulation exercise, which builds upon previous drills, also aims to empower participants to operate the various forms of simulations as well as make their skills available for the regional pool of rapidly deployable experts.

“We are living in an interlinked world as exemplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. This reality rings so true in East Africa where our people and countries have close socioeconomic ties," Dr David Balikowa, EAC senior livestock officer said.

"An infectious disease outbreak in one country can longer be seen as a remote possibility at home."

(Edited by Tabnacha O)

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