Sunday September 23, 2018

Ebola Treatment Gets New Hope, Faces Old Hurdles In Congo

In the district of Ndindi, in Beni, Ebola is spreading due to the community's reluctance to cooperate with health workers.

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Ebola, WHO
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA
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When Esperance Nzavaki heard she was cured of Ebola after three weeks of cutting-edge care at a medical centre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, she raised her arms to the sky with joy and praised the Lord.

Her recovery is testament to the effectiveness of a new treatment, which isolates patients in futuristic cube-shaped mobile units with transparent walls and gloved access, so health workers no longer need to don cumbersome protective gear.

“I started to feel sick, with a fever and pain all over my body. I thought it was typhoid. I took medicine but it didn’t work,” Nzavaki told Reuters in Beni, a city of several hundred thousand, where officials are racing to contain the virus.

“Then an ambulance came and brought me to hospital for Ebola treatment. Now I praise God I’m healed.”

Ebola
Ebola Virus. Wikimedia Commons

The fight against Ebola has advanced more in recent years than in any since it was discovered near the Congo River in 1976. When the worst outbreak killed 11,300 people in West Africa in 2013-2016, there was no vaccine and treatment amounted to little more than keeping patients comfortable and hydrated.

Now there’s an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck which already this year helped quash an earlier outbreak of this strain of the virus on the other side of the country in under three months. And there are the cube treatment centers, pioneered by the Senegal-based medical charity, ALIMA.

“With this system … where there are not people donning masks, the patients feel reassured and perceive that there is life here,” said Claude Mahoudeau, ALIMA’s coordinator for the Ebola outbreak in Beni.

In addition, three experimental treatments have been rolled out for the first time, offering patients additional reason to hope that their diagnosis is not a death sentence.

Congo,ebola
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Yet even the smartest science can do little about the marauding rebel groups and widespread fear and mistrust that could yet scupper efforts to contain Congo’s tenth outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever.

The latest outbreak is so far believed to have killed 90 people since July and infected another 40.

The stakes are high, not just for health reasons. Ebola could complicate Congo’s first democratic change of power, the holding of a Dec. 23 election to replace President Joseph Kabila that is already two years late.

Rebellion, fear, mistrust

The affected North Kivu and Ituri provinces have been a tinder box of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s. Some areas near the epicenter require armed escorts to reach because of insecurity. Two South African peacekeepers there were wounded in a rebel ambush last week.

And last week, authorities confirmed the first death from Ebola in the major trading hub of Butembo, a city of almost a million people near the border with Uganda, dampening hopes that the virus was being brought under control.

Ebola
Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference after an emergency committee meeting on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, VOA

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 60 of its experts had arrived in the city and that a mobile laboratory had started testing samples.

Insecurity aside, the biggest challenges the government faces could be panic and downright denial, as they were during the catastrophic West Africa outbreak.

“Ebola does not exist in Beni,” resident Tresor Malala said, shaking his head. “For a long time, people got sick with fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and they healed. Now someone gets a fever, they get sent to the Ebola treatment center and then they die.”

Taxi driver Mosaste Kala was equally skeptical: “The only people dying are the ones going to the … treatment center.”

Tackling these perceptions will be crucial if authorities are to halt the epidemic.

Congo, school
A family sits outside in a neighborhood where three people died of Ebola in Mbandaka, Congo,
VOA

At a news conference on Saturday, Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga acknowledged that “community resistance is the first challenge to the response to the epidemic.”

In the district of Ndindi, in Beni, Ebola is spreading due to the community’s reluctance to cooperate with health workers, the ministry says. Some locals have hidden sick relatives or refused to be vaccinated.

Also Read: North Kivu And Ituri, Congo To Welcome More Than 80,000 Children In This New School Year

The problem, says school teacher Alain Mulonda, many of whose pupils were being kept at home by anxious parents, is that locals have little understanding of Ebola.

“If the population of Beni continues to show this distrust,” he said, “this disease will consume the whole town.” (VOA)

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Alcohol Kills More People Than AIDS, Violence Combined: WHO

Alcohol consumption overall is unevenly distributed around the globe, with well over half of the world's population over the age of 15 abstaining completely.

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Alcohol
A pint of beer is poured into a glass in a bar in London, Britain, VOA

Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year — more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the WHO said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

The UN health agency’s latest report on alcohol and health pointed out that alcohol causes more than one in 20 deaths globally each year, including drink driving, alcohol-induced violence and abuse and a multitude of diseases and disorders.

Men account for more than three quarters of alcohol-related deaths, the nearly 500-page report found.

Alcohol
An infographic from the World Health Organization about the effects of alcohol on health worldwide. VOA

“Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of healthy societies,” he added.

Drinking is linked to more than 200 health conditions, including liver cirrhosis and some cancers.

Alcohol abuse also makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and pneumonia, the report found.

Alcohol
Middle-aged adults must have ‘drink-free’ days: UK health body. Pixabay

The some three million alcohol-related deaths registered globally in 2016 — the latest available statistics — account for 5.3 percent of all deaths that year.

In comparison, HIV/AIDS was responsible for 1.8 percent of global deaths that year, road injuries for 2.5 percent and violence for 0.8 percent, the study showed.

The latest numbers are lower than those in WHO last report on global alcohol consumption, published in 2014.

There are “some positive global trends,” the agency said, pointing to shrinking prevalence of heavy episodic drinking and of alcohol-related deaths since 2010.

Alcohol
Alcohol is linked with 7 cancers.

But it warned that “the overall burden of disease and injuries caused by the harmful use of alcohol is unacceptably high,” especially in Europe and the Americas.

Globally, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol use disorders, WHO said.

Also Read: There’s No Healthy Level for Consuming Alcohol, Lancet Study Confirms

Alcohol abuse affects nearly 15 percent of men and 3.5 percent of women in Europe, and 11.5 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women in the Americas, it pointed out.

Alcohol consumption overall is unevenly distributed around the globe, with well over half of the world’s population over the age of 15 abstaining completely. (VOA)