Health News of 2014-03-27

Ghana MPs issue ebola alert!

Ghana’s lawmakers have called for an “urgent” national preparation to forestall possible outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the country.

It follows a wave of fatal outbreaks of the virulent disease in neighboring Guinea and Liberia, where health workers have been battling to contain the virus since Monday.

At Wednesday’s sitting of the 275-Member Ghanaian Legislature, a former Minister for Health, Joseph Yieleh Chireh, read a pressing statement, calling for an “urgent meeting between the Ministers of Health, Interior, Foreign Affairs and the National Security Coordinator to discuss the Ebola outbreak that threatens our borders”.

That meeting –– the Wa West MP told the House ––– must also “propose measures to contain” the disease “in the event of the outbreak here”.

“Further, I recommend that an inter-agency taskforce be set up, consisting of relevant institutions under these three ministries and the National Security,” he added.

Mr. Chireh said, “We must not wait until the disease gets here before we act! The time to act is now”.

He added that the Ministry of Health, through the Public Health Division of the Ghana Health Service, must also monitor and regularly update the “Inter-Agency Taskforce on reports from particularly the entry points and border areas”.

He also recommended that “The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Taskforce, takes steps to stock the relevant medicines and prepare emergency teams in the event of the outbreak”.

Mr. Chireh, who is also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, added that the taskforce “must initiate measures including public education and awareness creation about Ebola and other areas.”

“This House must also be briefed urgently on the proposed measures” he said days after UNICEF issued a statement on the outbreak in Guinea saying, “At least 59 out of 80 who contracted Ebola across the West African country have died so far”.

Another former Minister for Health, Dr. Richard Anane, added his voice to the Wa West MPs call. On his feet, the Minority Spokesperson for Health made a direct appeal to Ghana’s Ministry of Health to call an urgent meeting of Health Ministers within West Africa to discuss a collective strategy to fight the Ebola outbreak.

“…At that meeting they [the Ministers of Health] may have to find ways and means of stemming this condition,” Dr. Anane said.

“The sickness is very frightening more so since it has no known cure,” Emmanuel Kwasi Bandua, MP for Biakoye said. “It is a sickness which is alien to us,” he added, echoing earlier calls for key national ministries to meet urgently to draw a plan to respond to the looming Ebola threat.

He said, Ghana needs to put in place mechanisms “to vet” travelers entering the country in a bid to help prevent the virus from entering its borders.

The seriousness with which the MPs discussed the Ebola outbreak compelled the presiding Speaker, Ebo Barton Odro, to direct that the statement together with comments made by MPs be sent to the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs, Food and Agriculture, Interior and Local Government and Rural Development “so that necessary steps will be taken to ensure that we stem the [disease] or prevent it completely from taking place here in Ghana”.

On Tuesday, neighboring Guinea banned the sale and consumption of bats to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Bats, a local delicacy in the small West African country, appeared to be the “main agents” for the Ebola outbreak in the south, Rene Lama the country’s Minister of Health was quoted by the BBC as saying.

In 2005, researchers found evidence of Ebola infection in three species of fruit bats. According to the findings, which were published in the science journal Nature, the bats show no symptoms of the disease, indicating that they might be spreading it.

“Fruit bats are likely the reservoirs [of Ebola],” said Eric Leroy of the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville in Gabon, who led the 2005 research. “But we cannot exclude definitively that other species may harbor the Ebola virus [too].”

Again, in January 2013, EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, released new research on Ebola virus in fruit bats in the peer reviewed journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, a monthly publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study found Ebola virus antibodies circulating in 4% of the 276 bats screened by scientists in Bangladesh. The results suggest that Rousettus fruit bats are a reservoir for Ebola, or a new Ebola-like virus in South Asia.

Here in Ghana, and as is the case in Guinea and many other countries globally, bats are equally widely eaten in cities, towns and villages. One area known for widespread consumption of bats in Ghana is Kwahu in the Eastern Region.

“People from my lineage as Kwawus are typically known in Ghana as people who enjoy this delicacy most. And so this is a matter which is dear to my heart…” Seth Acheampong, an MP, told this reporter after Wednesday’s sitting of Ghana’s Parliament, which discussed the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Mpraeso MP revealed that he had spoken to local health authorities in the Kwahu area to begin a campaign to not only “educate” people about the risks associated with eating bats but also ban their consumption.

“Hearing of the outbreak in Liberia and in Guinea where it started and knowing we all live in the West African peninsula, I am not comfortable because these birds migrate and we are close to Liberia and Guinea,” he added.

While conceding that the population of bats in his constituency has shrunk significantly due to extensive consumption by the locals , he said comprehensive education will help stop people from “going out to buy them from other parts of the country and bringing them home for consumption”.

“This can only be stopped through education,” he said.

At least sixty-two people have now been killed by the Ebola virus in Guinea, with suspected cases reported in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ebola, an extremely contagious disease spread by close contact, has no known cure or vaccine.

It kills between 25% and 90% of victims, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Symptoms include internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting.