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DRC Declares Itself Ebola-Free, New Patient Headed for US

  • Published in Health
VOA News

The Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday it was free of Ebola, three months after the deadly virus appeared in the country, resulting in the deaths of nearly 50 people.

Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi, who made the announcement, warned that the country could still be in danger if the strain ravaging Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — different from the DRC's — made its way into Central Africa.

There was no immediate confirmation of the announcement from international health agencies.

The DRC’s success contrasts with the continuing suffering of the three West African nations that have been at the epicenter of the epidemic. The World Health Organization on Friday noted a slight rise in the death toll, reporting 5,177 deaths and 14,413 confirmed cases worldwide, since the start of the current outbreak. Most of those cases are in West Africa.

The agency also said there has been a steep increase in the number of cases in Sierra Leone, including 421 new infections reported this week.

Meanwhile, a surgeon who contracted Ebola in his native Sierra Leone arrived Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska for treatment. Dr. Martin Salia, who lives in Maryland and is married to a U.S. citizen, had been working as a general surgeon at a Freetown hospital when he was diagnosed. He will be treated at the Nebraska Medical Center, one of several U.S. hospitals equipped to handle Ebola patients.

On Friday, officials in Mali announced they were trying to trace at least 200 contacts of people linked to Ebola patients in that country. Mali shares a border with Guinea and has recently had reports of at least five cases. The first victim of Mali's recent outbreak was a two-year-old girl from Guinea.

In London, pop musicians such as Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, and the popular boy band One Direction, began recording a song to benefit the fight against Ebola. Organized by Irish musician Bob Geldof, some 30 musicians were to record a new version of the song "Do They Know It's Christmas," a song first released 30 years ago as a charity record for the famine in Ethiopia.

Geldof said the United Nations contacted him for help raising money to prevent the spread of Ebola.

Obama: Risk of Widespread US Ebola Outbreak 'Very, Very Low'

VOA News, President Barack Obama says the risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States is 'very, very low,' if all the proper protections are taken.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting on Ebola Wednesday, Obama called for an emergency federal medical team to be immediately deployed to any hospital where an Ebola case is diagnosed, to ensure that those preventative steps are taken.

"If we do these protocols properly .. the likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country are very, very low," he said.

He stressed the need for a more robust global response to Ebola and more aid to the three countries that are at the epicenter of the outbreak -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement saying the world has failed to adequately respond to West Africa's Ebola crisis.

The bodies 15 members called Ebola a threat to world peace and security, and urged all U.N. members to "dramatically expand" providing resources to fight the disease.

Frontier Airlines flight

Obama canceled his travel plans Wednesday for the emergency cabinet meeting after news that the second U.S. health worker infected with the Ebola virus took a flight within the United States a day before developing symptoms.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the health care worker, a nurse, Amber Vinson, 29, took a Frontier Airlines flight from Cleveland, Ohio to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, airport on Monday.

Officials said Vinson took the flight just one day before she reported developing symptoms of infection, U.S. and airline officials said.

CDC director Tom Frieden said Wednesday that a person being monitored for Ebola will not be allowed to travel on a commercial flight.

CDC Director Tom Frieden says she should not have been allowed to travel on a commercial airplane.

"The CDC guidance outlines the need for what is called "controlled movement. That can include a charter plane and car, but does not include public transport. We will from this moment forward ensure that no other individual who is being monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than controlled movement," said Frieden.

CDC officials have said there is "very low risk" to any of the passengers who were on the flight, as Ebola spreads by direct contact with infected body fluids, like vomit or blood, and not through the air, like flu.

Despite the low risk, the agency and the airline say they are reaching out to all 132 passengers who were aboard. Crew members said the health care worker did not show any symptoms on the flight.

Vinson contracted the virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first person in the United States to die of the virus last week.

Vinson's news comes just days after another nurse from the same hospital, 26-year-old Nina Pham, became the first person infected by Ebola in the United States while caring for Duncan during much of his 11 days in the hospital. Duncan died on October 8.

Pham released a statement Tuesday saying she is "doing well" and wants "to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers."

Moving Vinson to Emory

The CDC also said Vinson is being moved to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday for treatment.

Emory is one of the country's hospitals that is equipped to handle Ebola patients. Two American missionaries infected with Ebola were successfully treated at Emory in August after being flown from Liberia in isolation bubbles.

“Health officials have interviewed the latest patient to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said on Wednesday.

Rawlings said Vinson's apartment, where she lived alone with no pets, is being decontaminated.

Union reports issues

Meanwhile, the head of a national nurses union, RoseAnn DeMoro, said she had reports saying the hospital in Dallas lacked the proper protocols to deal with an Ebola patient.

DeMoro said a group of nurses from the hospital contacted her with complaints that Duncan's case had not been handled safely.

The union said the nurses, who would not give their names for fear of retribution, complained that Duncan was not isolated for several hours once admitted to the hospital, that hazardous waste was allowed to accumulate inside the building, and that there was no mandated training for hospital workers on how to handle infected patients.

The nurses' union said these complaints were conveyed to the CDC in Atlanta.

There was no immediate comment from the CDC, but officials have said they are committed to the safety of health care workers.

CDC response

Dr. Tom Frieden said he has been hearing "loud and clear" from health care workers that they are worried about Ebola and do not feel prepared to take care of a patient with the disease.

Frieden said the CDC team currently on the ground in Dallas is making sure those caring for Pham do so "safely and effectively."

He said putting "a more robust" infection control team in place when the first patient was diagnosed in Dallas might have prevented her from getting infected.

At least 75 other health care workers who might have come into contact with Duncan are being monitored for fever or other symptoms.

Another 48 people exposed to Duncan before he was hospitalized have passed the period of greatest risk, and Frieden said they are now unlikely to develop Ebola.

Still, Frieden issues an ominous warning.

"We are planning for the possibility of additional cases in the next couple days."

At the same time, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell expressed confidence that the virus will be contained

"We know how to stop this. We have seen this disease since it was first discovered in the 1970's, and we have seen it stopped. We do know what protocols to use and how they work,” said Mathews Burwell.

Ebola Brings Sickness, Fear, Anger

  • Published in Health

Joe DeCapua, VOA

A Cornell University professor says when responding to the West Africa Ebola epidemic, officials must consider both the physical and social dimensions of healing. Stacey Langwick said the outbreak has dramatically changed the way people care for the sick.

Langwick is studying the Ebola crisis through the eyes of a medical anthropologist – someone, she said, is most interested in “behavior at the intersection of culture, humanity and biology.”

“We’re very interested in how people think about their bodies. How they’re thinking about diseases. How they’re thinking about threats and what sorts of action or responses come from those conceptions about diseases and threats,” she said.

The Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is a medical emergency. But Langwick said there’s more than one dimension to it.

“When we focus only on the very important scientific questions and biological questions of the origins of this disease -- its population dynamics, its spread – we may come up with a set of interventions that look very effective on paper in relation to containing the virus, but they’re completely ineffective on the ground.”

Past Ebola outbreaks in Africa were often over in a matter of weeks and occurred in small areas. Infected people were quickly isolated and the outbreak ended when the dying stopped. But this outbreak crossed porous borders – has been going on for months -- and the dying and new infections continue.

Langwick said, “Part of what we’re seeing is our intense inter-connectedness in today’s world. People travel. People need to travel to make their livelihoods, to get food, to see relatives, to care for each other, for their jobs and their profession. And I think we’re seeing a very effective and devastating virus take advantage of the fact that we are a very inter-connected world.”

The Cornell professor said when people live in an area with poor health care, surrounded by death and the fear of death, it is an infuriating and terrifying situation. That’s made worse, she said, when areas are placed under quarantine -- like the West Pointe area of Liberia’s capital Monrovia – with little or no warning or education campaigns about Ebola.

“The current violence in Monrovia really shows us that if we do not do that what will then be required is force and violence in a situation -- where there’s already so much loss, heartache and death – that adding to it is not what anyone is hoping will happen.”

She said that it’s a question of how do we care for the people we love, especially in the face of danger. She described it as the ethics of living, the ethics of caring.

Even the way people mourn the death of their loved ones has changed in the affected countries. No longer, said health officials, can people touch dead bodies during funerals.

The professor said, “How can we actually make a meaningful grieving practice together? And parts of that grieving practice might have to be new. And traditions are very strong and so they’re not easy to break. But part of what can be a real drawback of highly focused public health interventions is they tell people what not to do, but they do not take the time to imagine with people what they can do. “

Effective interventions, Langwick said, are more easily accepted when their based on consultations with a broad range of community members.

She added that working with traditional healers may help, as long as those healers are fully aware of the risks of Ebola.

“Good healers are skillful in conceiving and promoting therapies that intervene in the dynamics of both biological diseases and human relationships,” she said.

More than 1,300 people have died on ebola in West Africa.
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