Tanzania declares end of deadly Marburg virus outbreak

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • A total of nine cases, eight confirmed and one probable, and six deaths were recorded in the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever in the northwestern region of Kagera, the WHO said in a statement

Bukoba. The government yesterday declared the end of the first ever deadly outbreak of the Marburg virus, more than two months after it was first confirmed in Bukoba.

A total of nine cases—eight confirmed and one probable—and six deaths were recorded in the Kagera Region since the outbreak was reported in March.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement that it was the first such outbreak in Tanzania, a country with a population of almost 62 million.

The last confirmed case tested negative on April 19, setting off the 42-day mandatory countdown to declare the end of the outbreak.

Speaking during a function to mark the end of Marburg in Bukoba yesterday, the Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu, said health experts had verified that there were no new cases in the last 42 days since the last patient tested negative.

“Today is a happy day. I declare that Marburg is over in Tanzania,” she said.

“But this should not prompt us to lower our guard. Let us continue taking precautions against infectious diseases,” she added, urging the residents to report any suspicious symptoms once they are noticed.

“I’m proud that we have managed to protect Tanzanians and played our part in protecting the world from the Marburg virus disease,” said Ms Mwalimu, who was accompanied by the chief medical officer, Dr Tumaini Nagu, and other health officials. Ms Mwalimu said the government will continue fighting the epidemics by improving health facilities and providing medicines and medical devices.

“I urge all Tanzanians to report any unusual health symptoms or deaths to allow health professionals to investigate,” she said.

Neighbouring Uganda, which witnessed its last outbreak in 2017 and shares a porous border with Tanzania, had gone on high alert after Marburg was confirmed by Tanzania’s health ministry on March 21.

Uganda had just emerged in January from an almost four-month-long Ebola outbreak, which killed 55 people.

The WHO said yesterday that Tanzania’s health authorities, with help from the UN agency and other partners, had “immediately rolled out an outbreak response to stop the spread of the virus and save lives”.

The Marburg virus is a highly virulent microbe that causes severe fever, often accompanied by bleeding and organ failure.

No vaccines

It is part of the so-called filovirus family that also includes Ebola, which has wreaked havoc in several previous outbreaks in Africa. Fatality rates from Marburg in confirmed cases have ranged from 24 percent to 88 percent in previous outbreaks, according to the WHO.

The virus is transmitted to people by fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces, and materials, it says.

There are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments, but the WHO has said potential treatments, including blood products, immune therapies, and drug therapies, as well as early candidate vaccines, are being evaluated.

Tanzania’s outbreak coincided with cases in the West African state of Equatorial Guinea, where the death toll had risen to 12, according to health ministry figures issued on April 24.

Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases have also been reported in South Africa, Angola, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The virus takes its name from the German city of Marburg, where it was first identified in 1967 in a lab where workers had been in contact with infected green monkeys imported from Uganda.