SA to send mobile laboratory to help diagnose Ebola patients in West Africa

2014-08-07 00:00

SOUTH Africa will send a mobile laboratory and a team to staff it to help rural areas in West Africa afflicted by the Ebola virus.

The team of four specialists will be led by professor Janusz Paweska of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Paweska yesterday said southern Africa does not need the mobile laboratory now, while Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are crying out for such facilities to help diagnose people in rural areas.

The offer was made after seven health ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met in Kempton Park yesterday to discuss collective plans and preparations to prevent the spread of Ebola from these three West African countries.

At the same time, WHO health experts met in Geneva to plan how to prevent the disease from spreading, saying it has killed more than 900 people in West Africa over the past six months. The outbreak of the disease is the world’s deadliest to date.

Paweska said the mobile laboratory will be shipped within a few days. The unit contains testing equipment and basic protective clothes for the team. The South African Department of Health will support the deployment of the team.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said there are no cases of Ebola in the SADC region, but this does not mean the region could ignore the spread of the epidemic. “That is why we have already started to prepare our hospitals in each province should it become necessary to isolate patients.”

Motsoaledi said the preparations formed part of long-term planning to be ready in case the Ebola epidemic reaches southern Africa.

Paweska said there were already two South African medical officers, including a specialist in communicable diseases, in the affected countries to treat Ebola patients. He did not want to say who they are and where they are deployed.

The ministers undertook to set up communication between their countries to facilitate an early alert on travellers potentially infected with Ebola. South Africa should also become the “centre of excellence in Ebola laboratory diagnosis” for the region.

Dr Jean Kalilani, chairperson of the ministerial committee, said each country remains responsible to inform its residents on what Ebola is and how it is transmitted.

“At the same time, knowledge is needed so that people do not get unnecessarily panicked,” she said.

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