Collaboration key in West Africa Ebola outbreak response

July 10, 2014

by Christy Craig

In February 2014, the Guinea Ministry of Health reported an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever to the World Health Organization, the first outbreak of Ebola virus infection to ever be reported in West Africa. The highly contagious virus has continued to spread, and has incited a global outbreak response.  By July 1, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed a total of 759 cases -- including 467 deaths -- in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, making it the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in recorded history. WHO is working closely with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders, and IANPHI member NPHIs to support the Ministries of Health in the affected region.  The collaboration of the many public health institutions involved has been essential to the outbreak investigation’s continued progress.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a longtime IANPHI member institute, was quick to respond to the outbreak and, through a partnership with the Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (FELTP), has deployed public health officials and trained Kenyan epidemiologists to provide technical assistance to Liberia in its outbreak investigation. According to Kenya FELTP Resident Advisor Dr. Wences Arvelo, the Kenya FELTP team assisted Liberia to improve surveillance and reporting strategies and train healthcare workers on proper infection control procedures.  Read more about the US CDC/Kenya FELTP collaboration here.

Public Heath Englandlikewise, has provided support to the West Africa Ebola outbreak investigation. By collaborating with the Guinea Ministry of Health, as well as additional partners at the European Mobile Outbreak Response Lab, PHE’s Virology group is conducting lab testing in a field site near the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. PHE’s Dr. Edmund Newman explains that “…although PHE is primarily an England focused agency, it has a strong commitment to global health security, and supports international humanitarian work.” Learn more about PHE’s contributions to the Ebola outbreak response here.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, another IANPHI member, has also supported the outbreak investigation by providing financial contributions to WHO’s outbreak response.

After conducting an epidemiologic analysis, WHO has recognized three major contributing factors for the outbreak’s continuing transmission:

These factors include transmission of EVD [Ebola virus disease] in rural communities, facilitated by strong cultural practices and traditional beliefs; transmission of EVD in densely populated peri-urban areas of Conakry in Guinea and Monrovia in Liberia; and cross-border transmission of EVD along the border areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where commercial and social activities continue among the border areas of these countries.  - WHO Ebola Outbreak News

On July 2-3, WHO held a high-level meeting in Accra, Ghana, with disease control and prevention directors, donors, and Ministers of Health to plan next steps in controlling the outbreak.