from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – THE confirmation of an outbreak of the Marburg virus in Tanzania, and the escalation of the disease in Equatorial Guinea, is a cause of concern in the continent still reeling from the COVID-19.
This week (on Tuesday), Tanzania confirmed its first-ever cases of the fatal virus, which has a significantly higher fatality rate than COVID-19.
All 20 probable cases in Equatorial Guinea have resulted in death. In Tanzania, five of the eight cases, including a health worker, have died. A total of 161 contacts have been identified and being monitored in the latter.
While Tanzania has never previously recorded a Marburg case, it has had to respond to other health emergencies including COVID-19, cholera and dengue within the past three years.
A strategic risk assessment conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2022 showed that the East African country is at high to very high risk for infectious diseases outbreaks.
“We are working with the government to rapidly scale up control measures to halt the spread of the virus and end the outbreak as soon as possible,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The efforts by Tanzania’s health authorities to establish the cause of the disease is a clear indication of the determination to effectively respond to the outbreak,” she lauded.
Tanzania’s north-west Kagera region is the epicentre of the virus.
WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health to deploy an emergency team to the area to carry out further epidemiological investigations. The emergency team will focus on active case finding in the community and local health care facilities to identify more contacts and provide them with appropriate care.
On Thursday (today) Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Health confirmed eight more cases of Marburg, bringing the number of confirmed cases to nine since the outbreak of the viral haemorrhagic fever was declared on February 13.
The new cases have been reported from Kie Ntem in the east, Litoral in the country’s west and Centro Sur provinces, all with international borders with Cameroon and Gabon.
The areas reporting cases are about 150 kilometres apart, suggesting wider transmission of the virus.
“The confirmation of these new cases is a critical signal to scale up response efforts to quickly stop the chain of transmission and avert a potential large-scale outbreak and loss of life,” said Moeti.
WHO is working with the national authorities to step up emergency response measures by enhancing disease surveillance, testing, clinical care, infection prevention and control, as well as carrying out further epidemiological investigations and bolstering public awareness to help curb infection spread.
The international health agency confirmed additional experts in epidemiology, logistics, health operations and infection prevention and control from WHO will be deployed in the coming days.
The organisation is also supporting the health authorities in neighbouring Cameroon and Gabon to ramp up outbreak readiness and response.
The Red Cross reports that because of the extreme porosity of the borders, and the family and friendly ties between the populations living on both sides of these borders, an exponential spread of the virus through contact cases could occur.
It has allocated CHF149 282 (US$162 826) in intervention, targeting 141 877 people most at risk in the northernmost Woleu-Ntem region of Gabon.
Marburg virus disease is highly virulent and causes haemorrhagic fever, with a fatality ratio of up to 88 percent. It is in the same family as the virus that causes Ebola virus disease.
The virus is transmitted to people from fruit bats and spreads among humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, surfaces and materials.
There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the virus.
– CAJ News