The Democratic Republic of Congo declares over the thirteenth Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reported zero case of Ebola since the country declared the end of the 13th Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak on the 16th December 2021.

This is the second EVD outbreak reported this year from the DRC. Results from genomic sequencing show that this outbreak is linked to the 2018 EVD outbreak reported from the same province.

The outbreak was declared on 08 October 2021 in Beni Health Zone in North Kivu Province. In this outbreak, a total of 11 cases (8 confirmed, 3 probable), nine deaths (6, 3) and two recoveries of EVD were reported. These cases were distributed across three health areas: Butsili (9 cases, 7 deaths, 2 recoveries), Bundji (1, 1, 0) and Kanzulinzuli (1, 1, 0). The cumulative case fatality ratio is 82%. The last confirmed case was reported on 30 October 2021. The outbreak was successfully contained within the Beni Health Zone and no further cases were reported in other provinces.

“This is another example from the DRC showing a good example of applying the knowledge and expertise gained from previous recurrent outbreaks to quickly fight and bring the 13th outbreak to an end,” said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The African Union Commission, through the Africa CDC, had deployed frontline workers and experts from the headquarter to support response to the 13th outbreak and donated medical and non-medical supplies including infection prevention and control kits, and laboratory consumables. The Africa CDC will continue to work with the Government of DRC and other partners to better coordinate our efforts in strengthening health systems in the country and across Africa

Sierra Leone: (NeCOVERC) mounts efforts to debunk Covid-19 myth

By Isaac Unisa Kamara.

Faced with denials and traditional practices affecting government efforts to control the spread of covid-19, the National Covid-19 Response Center unveils 50 national ambassadors to engage the people nationwide to dispell false news and myth surrounding the spread of the virus.

Solomon Jamiru, spokesperson for the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center (NeCOVERC), said during the unveiling at Cockerill North, Freetown, that the initiative is rolled out by the Risk Communication and Social Mobilization Pillar, with a purpose driven plan that will bring on-board active people into the fight,
Information and Communications Minister, Mohamed Raman Swaray told the Ambassadors to be of one mind in supporting Government’s commitment to win the fight.

“You shouldn’t compromise any situation of someone who shows symptoms of the virus, but rather do what is expected of you by making a prompt report,” the minister urged.

UNICEF Sierra Leone communications specialist, Tapuwa Mustseyekwe commended the initiative as one capable of playing an essential role that would raise awareness among communities in promoting preventive measures that will help fostering the desired changes in health behaviors.

“The pinpointed role of the Ambassadors should be to create and also share mere facts about the pandemic on different media outlets to discourage fake opinions,” he noted.
The Risk Communications and Social Mobilization Pillah of NaCOVERC works in partnership with UNICEF Sierra Leone to role out the venture.

To End HIV Epidemic, We Must Address Health Disparities – Expert Report

Scientific strides in HIV treatment and prevention have reduced transmissions and HIV-related deaths significantly in the United States in the past two decades. However, despite coordinated national efforts to implement HIV services, the epidemic persists, especially in the South.

It also disproportionately impacts marginalized groups, such as Black/African-American and Latinx communities, women, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and other sexual and gender minorities. Following the release of the HIV National Strategic Plan and marking two years since the launch of the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE)—a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative to reduce new HIV transmissions by at least 90% by 2030—researchers, advocates, and other stakeholders reported on the HIV epidemic response in The Lancet HIV in the USA Series, published online today.

Literature reviews, commentaries, and data analyses in the series outline recommendations to overcome barriers to implementing HIV services, such as counseling, testing, treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and syringe services programs. These services are critical to preventing new HIV transmissions and helping people living with HIV achieve and maintain a “durably undetectable” viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood). Maintaining an undetectable viral load both preserves individual health and eliminates the risk of sexually transmitting the virus to others, a concept known as Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U).

By leveraging these services and addressing structural barriers, the experts argued, the EHE goals remain attainable and important, even as the COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges and exacerbates existing health disparities.

The series was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health within HHS. The authors received additional support from the NIH-funded Centers for AIDS Research and NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“Scientific advances have transformed the course of HIV in individuals. To transform the course of the epidemic, we need to expand care and prevention strategically to those who need it most,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “That means taking a hard look at who has been excluded from services and take immediate steps to overcome systemic barriers like stigma, structural racism, and other forms of discrimination to connect hardly reached people—such as individuals with substance use disorders—with HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.”

The series’ authors recommend allocating resources to the areas and populations most hard-hit by the HIV epidemic, especially the U.S. South, where 52% of new HIV transmissions occurred in 2018 despite being home to only 37% of the U.S. population. The recommendation echoes a key EHE strategy to prioritize the 57 counties, U.S. territories, and states in which more than half of U.S. HIV transmissions occurred in 2016 and 2017 for targeted interventions.

“To end the HIV epidemic, we must continue to develop and deploy novel HIV treatment and prevention strategies suited to the different needs and preferences of diverse populations disproportionately affected by HIV,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “It is also essential that HIV health services continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

The authors explained that stark disparities in HIV outcomes also exist between certain age, racial, and ethnic groups, as well as between sexual and gender identities. While HIV diagnoses decreased overall and among white men who have sex with men between 2009 and 2018, new cases remained stable among Black/African-American men who have sex with men and increased among young people aged 25-34 and Latino men who have sex with men. While Blacks/African Americans make up only about 13% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 43% of HIV-related deaths in 2018. Researchers suggested that culturally appropriate, tailored interventions may help communities respond to the unique needs of people in—or at the intersections of—these groups.

Such interventions to promote HIV prevention and treatment adherence, the authors suggested, should take a multi-faceted approach and address the whole individual. 

“We have incredible tools to prevent and treat HIV, but people may not fully utilize them if they are facing personal or structural issues that pose more immediate hardship like substance use and mental health disorders,” said Chris Beyrer, M.D., M.P.H., investigator at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and a lead author on the series. “You may struggle to take a daily medication if you are facing food insecurity or cannot find affordable treatment for your substance use disorder.”

The authors detailed additional economic barriers to accessing HIV health services in the United States. These included unequal access to Medicaid, on which 40% of people living with HIV rely, depending on one’s state of residence. The series’ authors recommended implementing universal healthcare coverage and expanding safety net programs for the uninsured or underinsured, such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, on which 82% of uninsured people living with HIV rely for medical care.

Stigma, discrimination, and bias by healthcare providers were among major barriers to care identified by the series authors and disproportionately affected marginalized racial groups, people who use drugs, and sexual and gender minorities. Healthcare professionals may help address these concerns by cultivating informed, supportive care practices that integrate mental health care and substance counselling. Because internalized HIV stigma can also negatively affect a person’s mental health and adherence to medication, the authors recommended promoting awareness of U=U through a national campaign.

While the series’ authors cite a large body of HIV research in making these recommendations, they also highlighted opportunities for additional research that could help end the HIV epidemic. Women make up one out of every four people living with HIV in the United States, and rates of HIV transmission are high among transgender people, demonstrating the need for continued efforts to ensure the needs of these populations are taken into account at all stages of clinical research. The authors also supported continued investment in efforts to develop a preventive HIV vaccine and HIV cure, both of which would accelerate an end to the HIV epidemic in the U.S. and around the globe.

Sierra Leone, Guinea Sign Communique, Commit to Mutual Security, Public Health and Socio-Economic Interests

President Julius Maada Bio has concluded his 2-day working visit to Conakry where the two countries committed to reopening on Thursday 18 Feb the land border that was closed since early last year due to COVID-19.

The communique states that: “Based on mutual reassurances and enhanced mutual confidence…the President of the Republic of Guinea Professor Alpha Conde has reviewed the security situation in his country and has agreed to reopen its borders with the Republic of Sierra Leone effective from Thursday 18 February 2021 at 8:00 hours GMT”.

“The two leaders also agreed to reactivate the Joint Technical Committee on Yenga, which shall commence sittings in Nongowa, on 3 March 2021. They also agreed to implement the agreement to Joint Border Patrols along the common border areas from 5 March 2021,” the document reads, adding that the two foreign ministers would immediately restart the holding of the Joint Commission of Cooperation meetings between the two countries.

The communique also contains a raft of bilateral agreements to cooperate with each other on security, defence, public health, ICT, mining, justice, transport, private investments, and cultural exchanges. The Heads of State further pledged to use their good offices to provide the necessary capacity to address the current and emerging public health emergency such
as COVID-19 and EBOLA in the two countries.

“The two Heads of State expressed their satisfaction with the strategies by the two countries in the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirmed their determination to coordinate their efforts in obtaining vaccines for their respective populations,” the document reads.

At the sub regional level, President Bio and President Conde welcomed the latest decisions for the return of Mali to constitutional order, in accordance with the provisions of ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and reiterated their continental commitment to always defend the African interest.

“They also welcomed the decision of the African Union Heads of State and Government for launching the first operational stage of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement…and commended the implementation of the 2063 agenda and other reforms initiated at the African Union,” the communique adds.

President Bio, whose government delegation also included deputy leader of the main opposition All People’s Congress in Parliament, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo and former APC Minister of Public Affairs, Information and later Mines, Alhaji Alpha Sahid Bakar Kanu, will return today Tuesday 16 February 2021

Sierra Leone is better prepared now to respond to the Ebola outbreak – Saffea Gborie

 By Isaac Unisa Kamara

Saffea Gborie, communications officer at the World Health Organization Country Office in Freetown, Sierra Leone has said Sierra Leone is better prepared to respond to any Ebola outbreak than before.

When contacted at his Freetown office by SPECIMEN today, he said with seven confirmed cases and three dead in neighboring Guinea, the Government of Sierra Leone has activated Emergency Response to level 2 and in readiness to undertaking surveillance to make sure there is no case in the country. He said the WHO is providing technical support at the strategic and operational level and working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Following a Press Release from the Government of the Republic of Guinea on Sunday February 14, 2021, confirming seven reported cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) including three deaths, President Bio, instructed the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to inform the general public that even though there are no reported cases of EVD in Sierra Leone, the government should take prudent action to prevent any introduction of the virus into the country and to institute measures to protect the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

“The Government of Sierra Leone is working with the leadership of the WHO to understand the situation and the necessary steps that should be taken in the event of a reported case,” he noted, adding that the Ministry of Health has already dispatched Rapid Response Teams to border districts. “The teams are carryout surveillance and engage the communities,” he said.

He however noted that with present laboratory and strong surveillance systems, Sierra Leone is better prepared now than in 2014 in responding to any outbreak. “Lessons learned from 2014 has put the country in a better position to respond to public emergencies. The structures the country has now were not there before”.

Sierra Leone Activates Emergency Response System following Confirmed Cases of Ebola in Guinea

The government of Sierra Leone has activated its Health Emergency Response System to level II (Enhanced
Surveillance, Active Case Finding and robust Community Engagement, following a Press Release from the Government of the Republic of Guinea on Sunday February 14, 2021, confirming seven reported cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) including three deaths.

President Julius Maada Bio instructed the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to inform the general public that even
though there are no reported cases of EVD in Sierra Leone, the government is taking prudent action to
prevent the virus from spreading into the country.

With the border with the Republic of Guinea currently closed, Health Authorities and local stakeholders in
the districts bordering Guinea and Sierra Leone have heighten Ebola surveillance, improving community awareness including appropriate preparedness measures.

Sources in the Ministry of Health say national rapid response teams are being dispatched to provide additional support to the District Health Management Teams and to work very closely with our Guinean counterparts to quickly contain the situation.

Ebola kills four in Guinea in first resurgence of disease in five years

Four people have died of Ebola in Guinea in the first resurgence of the disease in five years, the country’s health minister said Saturday.

Remy Lamah told AFP that officials were “really concerned” about the deaths, the first since a 2013-16 epidemic — which began in Guinea — left 11,300 dead across the region.

One of the latest victims in Guinea was a nurse who fell ill in late January and was buried on 1 February, National Health Security Agency head Sakoba Keita told local media. “Among those who took part in the burial, eight people showed symptoms: diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding,” he said. “Three of them died and four others are in hospital.”

The four deaths from Ebola hemorrhagic fever occurred in the south-east region of Nzerekore, he said.

The four deaths from Ebola hemorrhagic fever occurred in the southeast region of Nzerekore, he said.

Keita also told local media that one patient had “escaped” but had been found and hospitalized in the capital, Conakry. He confirmed the comments to AFP without giving further detail.

The World Health Organization has eyed each new outbreak since 2016 with great concern, treating the most recent one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an international health emergency.

A rapidly spreading virus with a high fatality rate and no cure, Ebola was first recorded in Guinea in 2013 with the death of a local two-year-old boy. This marked the first outbreak of Ebola in all of West Africa. Since then, the highly fatal virus has been spreading throughout neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, leaving a trail of death behind it.

An epidemic of Ebola virus disease in Guinea from 2013 to 2016 represents the first ever outbreak of Ebola in a West African country. Previous outbreaks have been confined to several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The epidemic, which began with the death of a two-year-old boy, was part of a larger Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa which spread through Guinea and the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, with minor outbreaks occurring in SenegalNigeria, and Mali. In December 2015, Guinea was declared free of Ebola transmission by the U.N. World Health Organization, however further cases continued to be reported from March 2016. The country was again declared as Ebola-free in June 2016.