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Against Ebola spread: Health screening for new arrivals

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The deadly Ebola virus has finally been officially confirmed within the territorial confines of Liberia.  According to the Liberian Ministry of health and Social Welfare, two out of seven tests conducted in France recently proved the presence of the disease in the country.

“The lady who died from Foya was a result of Ebola and the woman taking care of her is still alive. However, she left Foya to come down to Firestone to her husband. We have searched and found her and has already instructed Dr. Mabande, the Medical Administrator at the Firestone Hospital to isolate her from people,” Health Minister Walter T. Gwanigale announced in Monrovia. The latest confirmation is against the backdrop of tremendous and concerted efforts by the Government of Liberia and partners to deal with the outbreak emanating from neighboring Guinea and its subsequent spill-over in Liberia and Sierra Leone with eight cases reported by medical authorities.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, on March 26, 2014, publicly announced that there were no new suspected cases of the viral hemorrhagic fever, and that the number of suspected cases remains at six with four deaths since March 24, 2016. With the official confirmation of this aggressive pathogen that causes a highly lethal hemorrhagic fever syndrome in humans and nonhuman primates, the urgent need for additional measures cannot be over-emphasized. Even though doctors have suggested prevention as the best way out for the virus now spreading rapid in a porous and poor health care delivery system like ours, another key measure that Government of Liberia could immediately institute is the screening of commuters and new arrivals at Liberia’s borders with neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Screening of commuters and new arrivals at our borders, especially with Guinea, with the presence of Liberian medical personnel, would definitely restrict the movements of people suspected of carrying the deadly virus. While we do appreciate the presence of our border guards, we cannot continue to rely on them, especially in such an emergency situation on hand, because they could compromise the enforcement of these measures because of relationships with people on the other side of the border.

The screening should be a pre-requirement for entry into Liberia. This recommended action is not intended to sour diplomatic relations with Guinea and Sierra Leone, but to protect the interest of the people of Liberia in the wake of the Ebola epidemic within the Mano River Union Basin. Liberia stands to face disaster, if our borders, especially with Guinea, remain opened during this trying time of our nation’s history.

We must all be reminded that no amount of money, including the US$1.2m recommended by former Health Minister and Senator Peter Coleman, will protect us-Liberians- from the deadly Ebola virus, should our borders remain opened. The Government of Liberia must act now to ensure that screening at our borders are in the supreme interest of Liberians. The Ebola Virus was first recognized near the Ebola River valley during an outbreak in Zaire in 1976.

Outbreaks have occurred in Africa for 27 years, with mortality rates ranging from 50 to 90%. Outbreaks have also been identified yearly for the past 3 years in central Africa- the most recent of which continues in the Republic of the Congo, with more than 125 fatalities to date, according to the World Health Organization or WHO. Even though the natural host for Ebola virus is unknown, it has not been possible to implement programs to control or eliminate viral reservoirs of transmission to human populations. The rapid progression of the Ebola virus infection has further complicated the control of this disease, affording little opportunity to develop acquired immunity. There is currently no antiviral therapy or vaccine that is effective against the Ebola virus infection in humans.

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