GENEVA - The World Health Organization says it is using every measure it has to curb the spread of parallel Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa - the largest in history - is the critical importance of acting quickly to contain the deadly disease.
World health officials began marshaling staff and working on a strategy to combat the disease as soon as the first cases of the Ebola virus were detected in Guinea on February 14.
A rapid assessment conducted by the WHO in the country and in the region found the risk level to be very high. WHO Representative in Guinea, Georges Alfred Ki-Zerbo, said the WHO and partners have been stepping up efforts to implement Guinea's Strategic response plan.
That, he said, involves increased surveillance on the ground, accelerating preparedness measures in neighboring countries, and working closely with communities to interrupt the outbreak as soon as possible.
"In doing so, we are engaging traditional healers, including also traditional practitioners, and we are going into communities to discuss with them, to listen to them and see what is the understanding of the disease, what is the fears and the preoccupation of the communities so that we can increase the success of our interventions," Ki-Zerbo said.
To date, the WHO reports 18 cases of Ebola in Guinea, including four deaths. Ki-Zerbo said health workers have traced hundreds of people who have come in contact with infected people. So far, he ssaid, more than 1,600 people have been vaccinated against the virus, including high-risk contacts and health workers.
Meanwhile, North Kivu province in eastern Congo is experiencing its own fresh Ebola outbreak. Since February 7, the WHO reports there have been 11 cases and four deaths. Another Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo ended just last June.
WHO director of strategic health operations, Michel Yao, said dealing with both the COVID-19 and Ebola epidemics is a challenge, especially in countries with fragile health systems.
"There are some similar approaches, at least, in some of the components like community isolation, as well as the preventive measures that have to be implemented," Yao said. "Vaccination is maybe less challenging because this works in different areas. And I think the approach in most of the countries, as with COVID, they will probably start with health workers."
WHO health officials agree it will likely be difficult to get the funding needed to stem the twin Ebola outbreaks. Besides appealing to government donors, they said they also will tap leading financial institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development.