Ebola: encouraging signs in Sierra Leone.
For the first time since the Ebola epidemic began more than a year ago, no new contaminations have been reported in Sierra Leone for two weeks. This is a very encouraging new development in the fight against the virus, which has already infected nearly 30,000 people (almost half in Sierra Leone), more than 10,000 of whom have died. Magalie Vairetto, who has been working on Handicap International’s Ebola programme since January 2015, tells us more about these hopeful signs and the need to remain vigilant at this stage in the epidemic.
A member of Handicap International's ambulance service team cleans an ambulance with a chlorine solution. Sierra Leone. | © Etienne Haerten / Handicap International
Two weeks have passed without a single person testing positive for the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. Although the signs are encouraging, we still need to tread very carefully. Four more weeks need to pass without any new cases being reported in order for the country to be considered Ebola free. “It is a very positive sign,” explains Magalie Vairetto.
“Especially since, in every affected country, the number of new contaminations is heading towards zero. This will give us the strength we need to continue with our efforts. We need to make the most of this time by monitoring even small contamination risks and making sure any new cases don’t go unnoticed. Statistics are important, and they’re really encouraging right now, but they shouldn’t blind us to the fact that our work is not over yet.”
An impressive system has been put in place to monitor people at risk and to curb the spread of the virus. For a period of 21 days, anyone who has been in physical contact with an infected person is closely monitored. The person in question is quarantined and their temperature checked regularly, so that they can be immediately case-managed if they display the symptoms of the virus. Just fifteen people are currently being monitored under this system in Sierra Leone, compared with nearly 700 just two weeks ago.
“This is perhaps the most encouraging thing,” says Magalie. “Especially since the monitoring system has proven to be extremely effective in the past, and for weeks and weeks every single reported case has been someone who is being monitored. This shows that the virus has finally been contained by the sanitary system put in place.”
To bring an end to the epidemic, Handicap International’s teams are visiting districts where there’s still a chance that some households are contaminated. “We visit each home to check how everyone’s doing and to identify people with symptoms of the virus. Whenever necessary, we call in a decontamination team and one of our ambulances to take the patient to a screening centre where they run tests to see if they’ve got Ebola or not. Over the last few days, we’ve been doing about twenty interventions a day. It’s a crucial time in the fight against the virus and we’re really hoping this is the end of the epidemic.”