Ebola outbreak: Are we really prepared for this pandemic?

Wednesday December 19 2018

Dr Lugano Wilson

Dr Lugano Wilson 

By Dr Lugano Wilson

 Last year, I got an opportunity to participate in a seminar in Dar-es-Salaam as part of an academic program on how to be better prepared for a disease outbreak in the country. Our main focus was Ebola virus disease.
In that seminar, we heard stories from some of our colleagues who had participated in the previous Ebola outbreaks preparedness training, despite that Tanzania has never been hit by Ebola.
But I also personally got another opportunity to get knowledge on the Ebola disease through a special seminar on viral haemorrhagic diseases.
Since it was a microbiologist’s session, we mainly focused on collection, transport, and submission of specimen for Ebola virus testing and notification of the diseases.

Let’s be prepared
One thing that emerged out of both these programs and seminars, is that ‘timely preparedness’ is important. It is said that the diseases can be stopped if the country can be better prepared from the outset.
We came to learn that World Health Organisation’s (WHO) comprehensive checklist that is in line with International Health Regulations plays a pivotal role in public health emergency of international concern like this.
 It explained that the local teams formed can use the WHO  checklist  in making recommendations on community  engagement, Ebola prevention and control,  treatment units, safe dignified burials,  or safe alternatives, contact tracing,  border crossing preparedness, identifying diagnostic laboratories that can effectively test for Ebola and safe transport samples to the laboratory.

Lessons learnt
During the training, we saw the importance of employing the use of simulated exercises, and table top sessions on how to locally and internationally coordinate efforts in the course of seeking succour  from willing allies.
It was further stressed that samples  of body fluids and tissues from people with the diseases should be handled with a special caution, wearing proper protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with a diseases.
It was also insisted that Ebola care takers should wear protective clothing including masks, gloves, gowns and goggles, such that no skin left exposed.
We also looked at the CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendation, which require that medical personnel receive training on the proper suit-up and removal of personal protective equipment, designated person well trained in biosafety should be watching each step of these procedures to ensure they are done correctly.

My experience
Last week when I was travelling from Bukoba to Dar es salaam, I was told to get ready to be tested for Ebola at the airport.
But of course they were just measuring body temperature/fever.
One of my colleagues in the cohort, asked the health officer, “What if I am suffering from just malaria for which my body temperature will be elevated possibly significantly?”
The officer responded, “We will isolate you especially when the temperature is 40 and above. However, the kind of thermometre we use is special.”
True, the thermometre was not like the ones you can see in the hospitals. The  ones at the airport were gun-like non-contact type, what a good prevention strategy! This is being practical! The proof of the  pudding is in the eating, especially with regards to the conduction of this exercise.

Prevent ebola, save life
It is said that enabling people to understand the diseases can be key in combating any pandemic.
Last year I remember, there was a charity walk, dubbed, “Matembezi ya hisani kuzuia ebola kuingia nchini,” (Charity walk for prevention of Ebola Outbreak), whereby the campaign aimed at educating the public on symptoms of Ebola and its prevention.
What I commend here is the message contained therein, “prevent Ebola, save life”.
Therefore, let us take time to understand the disease outbreak in other countries so as to better protect and prepare ourselves.

The author is a medical doctor and a public health activist based in Dar es Salaam.