Guinea tracks potential Ebola contacts, says it can overcome new outbreak

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea is tracking down people who potentially had contact with Ebola patients and will rush vaccines to the affected area as soon as possible following at least three deaths from the disease, Health Minister Remy Lamah said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Guinea's Minister of Health Remy Lamah speaks during World Health Organization (WHO) Virtual Press Conference following High Level Meeting on building resilient systems for health in Ebola-affected countries in Geneva December 11, 2014. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

Lamah said that unlike during the deadliest known outbreak, which tore through West Africa in 2013-2016, Guinea had the means to halt the resurgence of the virus.

The Ebola virus causes severe bleeding and organ failure and is spread through contact with body fluids.

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

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned the outbreaks in Guinea and Congo represented a regional risk.

The WHO representative in Guinea, Georges Ki-Zerbo, said he has requested authorisation to obtain as many vaccines doses as possible.

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

International organisations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres and medical charity ALIMA said they were sending rapid response teams to the region to assist.

The 2013-2016 outbreak killed 11,300 people, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The second-deadliest known outbreak was declared over last year in Democratic Republic of Congo, but it also saw a resurgence this month.

An Ebola vaccination campaign started in eastern Congo on Monday.

“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 listen to them.

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

The outbreak started after the funeral of a nurse who was buried in southeast Guinea on Feb. 1. She is thought to have had Ebola and seven people who attended her funeral have tested positive for Ebola, with three dying, authorities said.

“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.

Reporting by Saliou Samb, additional reporting by Cooper Inveen and Nellie Peyton in Dakar; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Hereward Holland, Peter Graff, Timothy Heritage and Sonya Hepinstall