Wednesday January 16, 2019

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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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

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Next Story

What to Do About Medicare If You Are Still Working in 2019

If you do plan to work after you reach retirement age, here’s what you should know about your Medicare coverage.

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If you don’t have Medicare, your group plan isn’t obligated to pay anything toward your medical expenses.

These days, more seniors are continuing to work well past 65, the age of Medicare eligibility. With longer life expectancies and jobs that are less physically demanding today, you might even be planning to work well in your 70’s. If you do plan to work after you reach retirement age, here’s what you should know about your Medicare coverage.

Do I have to sign up for Medicare?

The answer depends on the size of your employer. There are laws in place prohibiting larger employers (those with at least 20 employees) from offering older employees different health benefits than those they offer everyone else. In other words, it’s your choice, not your employer’s, whether to continue with your employer coverage or enroll in Medicare.

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There are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure. Flickr

If you work for a small employer with fewer than 20 employees, the employer decides whether to discontinue your group health coverage once you become eligible for Medicare. If your company’s policy is to make Medicare the primary insurer for employees age 65 and over, you must enroll in both parts of Original Medicare or face several unpleasant and costly consequences.

First, even if your employer allows you to stay on the group health plan after age 65, your group plan becomes the secondary insurer. That means that it will only pay after Medicare, the primary insurer, pays its share. If you don’t have Medicare, your group plan isn’t obligated to pay anything toward your medical expenses.

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These days, more seniors are continuing to work well past 65, the age of Medicare eligibility.

Second, if you don’t enroll in Medicare, and your group plan is secondary, you technically do not have health insurance for purposes of Medicare’s late enrollment penalty. In other words, when you do enroll in Medicare, you’ll pay a penalty based on the number of months you went without insurance coverage when you could have enrolled in Medicare—and you’ll pay that penalty for as long as you have coverage.

If you work for a larger employer and you have the choice between Medicare and your group plan, it’s a good idea to compare premiums, deductibles, and coverage, and determine which option makes most sense financially. Most people, however, do decide to keep their Part A as soon as they become eligible, since most people qualify for premium-free Part A.

What about Part D coverage for prescription drugs?

Although Part D is considered optional, the law requires you to have “creditable” prescription drug coverage if you choose to forgo Part D. If you don’t, and you go without prescription drug coverage for 63 or more consecutive days, you’ll pay a late enrollment penalty with your Part D premium.

Medicare
It’s your choice, not your employer’s, whether to continue with your employer coverage or enroll in Medicare.

Most employer plans have coverage that is equal to or better than Part D, which is considered “creditable” for purposes of the law. Your insurance company is required to send you a letter letting you know whether your coverage satisfies Medicare’s requirements. If it doesn’t, you should enroll in Part D as soon as you become eligible. If it does, be sure to keep proof of creditable coverage in a safe place in case you are hit with a late enrollment penalty when you do enroll.

Also Read- President Ram Nath Kovind Urges To Achieve The Perfect Balance For Public Health

What if I want a Medicare Supplement Plan?

If you do delay Medicare enrollment because you are still working after age 65, you will still have guaranteed issue rights for Medigap when your employer coverage ends.

Note that if you use COBRA to continue your employer coverage after you leave your job, it does not count as insurance coverage from active employment for the purposes of avoiding late enrollment penalties with Medicare. COBRA also doesn’t protect your guaranteed issue rights for Medigap. Your open enrollment period for Medigap begins on the date you leave your employment or the date that your employer coverage ends.