Depuis la résurgence du virus EBOLA cet été, les organisations internationales et les populations de nombreux pays s’inquiètent. Le 24 août dernier, un Britannique infecté, en provenance de Sierra Leone, a été rapatrié au Royaume-Uni. En même temps, les premiers cas sont apparus en République Démocratique du Congo. Le nouveau ministère des affaires étrangères britannique, Philip Hammond, estime qu’une grande vigilance est de mise…
The virus was first called “Ebola” in reference to a river located near the city of Yambuku, in the North of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is with the hospital of this locality that the first case of Ebola hemorrhagic fever was identified, in September, 1976, which started a first epidemic outbreak which would affect 318 people, 280 of whom would be killed.
Incubation period varies from 2 to 21 days, most often from 4 to 9 days. One week after the beginning of the first symptoms, the virus invades the blood cells of the infected person. The disease then affects vital organs, such as liver and kidneys. This causes important internal bleedings. Death usually arises shortly after, usually from heart failure.
Direct contact with the organic fluids (blood, sperm, excretions, saliva) of an infected person is the main cause of interhuman contamination. The risks of contamination among hospital staff are very high, particularly if the sterilization of the equipment is not insured. In the zone at the heart of the outbreak, lack of rudimentary hygiene causes numerous problems. The virus is deadly is 60 to 90% of the cases. There is as yet no known cure.
This summer, the Ebola outbreak in three West African nations (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinez) has proved particularly worrying. For a few days even the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been. In Sierra Leone, an WHO (World Health Organisation) expert was contaminated by the disease.
A meeting of African health ministers under the aegis of the WHO was due early in September in Benin, but was postponed sine die because of the Ebola outbreak. But many Europeans are beginning to worry as a British citizen who contracted Ebola in Kenema, Sierra Leone, has just been flown back to Britain. The British health care worker is the first British person to contract Ebola in nearly 40 years. He will be transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in north London, to a special isolation unit dedicated for such cases.
The patient, who was evacuated aboard a military plane, is not in serious danger, according to the Department of Health. But the Department has tried to reassure the public. A spokesman declared: “The UK has well established and practised infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be strictly followed to minimise the risk of transmission while the patient is in transit and receiving treatment at the Royal Free Hospital.“
To curb the problem and prevent a possible pandemic, rich countries are doing their best to assist Africa. For instance, Liberia received 16 tons of medical equipment delivered by air by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Americans have also developed an experimental serum called ZMapp which was used to treat two Americans contaminated in Africa. The serum was used last week to treat a Liberian doctor and several other health care workers. ZMapp is not yet approved by health authorities but leaves many experts quite hopeful. Last week, the United Nations and the WHO promised Liberia “unprecedented” means to fight the outbreak, which has already killed at least 1, 427 people, 624 in Liberia, 406 in Guinea, 392 in Sierra Leone and 5 in Nigeria, out of a total 2, 615 cases, according to the WHO’s August 20 estimate.
The United Kingdom reacted without delay. Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond expressed their will to check the epidemic and protect the country. The COBRA committee focuses at present on the issue, at the request of the Prime Minister. The name COBRA stands for ‘Cabinet Office Briefing Room A’. It usually meets in Downing Street. (The Prime Minister can reconvene COBRA any time he feels the country is on the verge of an emergency – for example, COBRA met during the foot-and-mouth scares and the fuel crisis in 2000. The nature of the crisis usually determines who will be involved.)
Unfortunately, no concrete action has yet been undertaken by the government. The mission of the British National Health Service is to look after British patients, when in fact it would be necessary to urgently look after all Ebola patients, including directly in Africa. It is not the number one item on Cameron’s busy schedule, with the Scottish referendum in three weeks and the countdown to the 2015 general election. Yet for everyone’s sake this health issue should be dealt with by all governments.
Oussama BEN DHIAB & Clément MYROPE