Cuba commits health workers for Ebola response

Cuba flag
Cuba flag

Flag of Cuba, a nation that has responded to the West Africa outbreak with the promise of personnel, an urgent need., GBlakeley / iStock

The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that Cuba is providing 165 health professionals to address a crucial need in West Africa's Ebola outbreak as intense transmission continues, led by a sharp surge in Liberia.

Doctors without Borders (MSF), which has been at the forefront of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) battle since March, has listed trained personnel capable of staffing treatment centers as one of the most urgent priorities for the outbreak response, and the WHO has said that treatment centers are filling up and overflowing as fast as they're built, given the exponential increase in cases.

Cuba deploys clinicians to Sierra Leone

At a media briefing today, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, welcomed Cuba's support, which includes physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, infection control specialists, intensive care specialists, and social mobilization officers. She said the team will leave for Sierra Leone in early October for a 6-month deployment.

"If we are going to go to war with Ebola, we need the resources to fight," Chan said in a statement from the WHO today. "I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known." Chan added that the donation will make a significant difference in Sierra Leone.

During today's media briefing, Chan said that, as of today, the outbreak total has reached 4,784 cases, along with 2,400 deaths. The official totals are thought to dramatically underestimate the true extent of cases and deaths.

Transmission high, with surge in Liberia

In a separate situation update today, which covers disease activity through Sep 7, the end of epidemiological week 36, the WHO said there is no sign of a slowdown in EVD transmission in the three main outbreak countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

A surge of new cases in Liberia is worrisome, however, and is being driven by a sharp rise in cases from the country's capital, Monrovia. Transmission in both crowded urban settings and more rural areas has been a unique feature of West Africa's EVD outbreak.

In Sierra Leone's capital of Freetown, disease transmission is still high, and illness levels in two other ongoing hot spots—Kenema and Kailahun—are stable yet high, the WHO said. It added, though, that cases are increasing in Bo, Bombali, and Port Loko districts.

The demand for treatment center beds continues to top the supply needs in all three countries, with the Guinea's greatest needs in Macenta and Forcariah, Liberia's most critical need in Monrovia and Margibi and Nimba counties, and Sierra Leone needing more beds in Freetown and Port Loko.

Cases in healthcare workers continue to be a concern, with 301 infected so far, nearly half of whom (144) died from the disease, the WHO said. Infection control staff have been deployed to key treatment centers, and coordination efforts are under way to launch global training plans for infection control, the group added.

Capacity for contact tracing is under extreme pressure, especially in areas experiencing surges, the WHO said. Though the number of burial teams and districts where safe burials can be done is rising, the capacity to handle increased demand in all three countries needs to be assessed.

The World Food Program is targeting 1.3 million people in the region, is deploying 50 more staff, and had deployed a 19-seat airplane through the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service to allow humanitarian workers and cargo deliveries to enter the countries.

In one of the two other countries that have reported limited disease spread, Nigeria is still following contacts, all linked to a single chain of transmission. The WHO said Nigerian officials are investigating initial reports of a new suspected infection in a health worker in Port Harcourt, the site of a recent cluster of cases.

WHO: Senegal situation stable

In Senegal, EVD activity is still limited to the index case-patient, a university student from Guinea who was hospitalized in Dakar. Health officials are still following 67 contacts. In a separate statement the WHO said two of them had symptoms and were tested for EVD and the results were negative.

The country has also tested three other patients with symptoms from across the country, and their results were negative, as well.

The WHO said it was optimistic that disease transmission has been stopped in Senegal, but added the risk of similar imported cases is still high. It cautioned that challenges remain with keeping close contacts in isolation for 21-day monitoring. Though some of the man's contacts have resisted monitoring, none have been lost to follow-up.

The man has fully recovered, based on negative results from the last two rounds of blood tests, and he will be released from the hospital soon, the WHO said.

So far it's not clear why some EVD patients recover while others die, the WHO said, adding that anecdotal evidence suggests that age and underlying conditions are associated with poor prognosis.

Senegal's flight ban from affected countries remains in place, despite WHO advice to avoid restrictions. The country, however, has opened a humanitarian corridor to ease the flow of personnel and supplies into the three main outbreak countries.

Donations from China, family foundation

In other response developments today, China's government offered $32.5 million in additional humanitarian aid to the outbreak countries and global health groups battling the disease, Xinhua, China's state news agency, reported. The aid includes food, medical supplies, treatment facilities, and money, according to China's commerce ministry.

The country also plans to foster long-term cooperation with African countries to help them improve disease control and response capacities, the report said.

Meanwhile, a foundation run by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen has donated $9 million to help the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and outbreak country health ministries establish emergency operations centers, according to a press release yesterday from the CDC Foundation.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation made the grant to the CDC Foundations Global Disaster Response Fund, which is providing materials and assistance in support of the CDC's response to the outbreak. The grant money will support the construction of emergency operations centers and the training of people to work in them.

See also:

Sep 12 WHO statement on Cuba doctors

Sep 12 WHO Ebola roadmap situation update

Sep 12 WHO statement on Ebola in Senegal

Sep 12 Xinhua story

Sep 11 CDC Foundation statement

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