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Africa

Ebola: WHO urges communities to "remain vigilant"

At its annual conference, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the fight against Ebola is not over. WHO's country representative in Guinea told DW that as case numbers decline, so does people's vigilance.

While Liberia was declared Ebola-free on May 9, Sierra Leone and Guinea still detect new cases every week. Recently, the number of new cases rose in both countries. Last week, Sierra Leone recorded eight new infections as compared to two infections the previous week, and Guinea's figures were higher than they had been for a month, with 27 new infections recorded. Professor Jean-Marie Dangou is WHO's country representative in Guinea.

DW: Why have we seen a rise in new infections in Guinea and Sierra Leone?

Jean-Marie Dangou: The final days of an epidemic are often the most difficult. Those last miles are a bumpy road. When case numbers diminish, we often see communities taking on a more relaxed attitude toward the virus. This is exactly why WHO has increased the efforts in all areas in Guinea to ensure that we reach zero cases as soon as possible. As you have seen in Liberia and Sierra Leone, small flare-ups are common toward the end of the response. One of the reasons for these new infections is displacement. We have seen cases spreading this way. So people, and even dead bodies, are moving from one prefecture to another.

Not only has the number of new infections risen in both countries, districts that haven't had cases for a long time have begun seeing new infections. Is there a danger of the epidemic spreading again to other regions?

Until the epidemic is declared over, there is always the risk of the virus spreading, whether it is moving from one prefecture to another or from one country to another. This is caused by movement of people with the Ebola virus, and also the moving of dead bodies. For this reason WHO will continue to work around the clock to fight this epidemic right down to the last case. We are also taking measures to ensure so that the communities understand this risk. Right now we are focused on ensuring that communities remain vigilant.

Bruce Aylward Ebola, assistant director general of the WHO, gestures during a news conference. Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH DISASTER)

"If we do not finish the job, the virus will exploit the opportunity," warns Bruce Aylward, assistant director general of the World Health Organization

We are trying to combat complacency. We recently launched a four-day surveillance campaign in Forecariah, one of the affected prefectures, 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Conakry. It saw teams of doctors, social mobilizers and also community surveillance workers visiting 8,033 households, reaching a total of 38,560 people. So these door-to-door teams went from household to household to sensitize the families and to identify any cases which have not declared themselves voluntarily. Through the campaign we identified 39 alerts and 29 community deaths, and a total of 7 confirmed Ebola cases. We are now continuing active surveillance with all the teams over the 17-day period.

Our key message is to remain vigilant; the epidemic is not yet over in Guinea. We may be nearing the end of it, but that is not a reason to relax the measures we have put in place to fight Ebola. At WHO we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that - along with the Ministry of Health, partner organizations, and the community at large - we can end Ebola in Guinea in a few weeks.

You seem to be very optimistic that the epidemic is actually coming to an end. How closely are you working with authorities in Guinea?

We are working hand-in-hand, with the government, in particular, with the National Coordination Cell for the Ebola response. We are providing them with technical support in each of the pillars of the Ebola response. That means: community mobilization, community engagement as the first pillar. The second one is epidemiological surveillance, meaning identification of suspected cases in the community, contact identification and tracing, but also active surveillance. The third pillar is case management, including safe and dignified burial. And the last one is coordination. WHO is providing technical support for each of these pillars, but also financial support through the money given to us by donors.

Professor Jean-Marie Dangou is the World Health Organization's country representative in Guinea.

Interview: Isaac Mugabi

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