Ebola: South Africa is prepared

2014-10-12 15:00

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South Africa is capable of dealing with and containing Ebola if the viral disease reaches our shores.

This was the assurance from government as fears of a global Ebola outbreak spread across the world.

The epidemic?– which originated in west Africa, where it has killed 4?024 people?– has already reached the US and Spain, and there are fears it has spread to Brazil, Australia, Zimbabwe, France and the Czech Republic.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Friday that surveillance for viral haemorrhagic fevers, in particular Ebola, had been beefed up at various ports of entry, especially the OR Tambo and Lanseria international airports in Johannesburg.

The two airports are the only ones where thermal scanners have been installed to monitor the temperatures of all people entering the country.

In addition to strengthening surveillance and installing scanners, Motsoaledi said “270 health officials working at nine high-risk ports of entry have been trained and training will continue at two more border posts”.

“We have also put port health services, and public and private healthcare practitioners, on high alert for any ill person who has travelled to viral haemorrhagic fever risk areas.

“All medical transfers into the country are also being screened and isolated if there is a need,” he added.

Eleven state hospitals across the country have been designated to manage Ebola cases.

They are: Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo; Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga; Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko hospitals in Gauteng; Addington Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal; Klerksdorp Hospital in North West; Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State; Kimberley Hospital in the Northern Cape; Frere and Livingstone hospitals in the Eastern Cape; and Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape.

All these hospitals had quarantine wards and had been supplied with personal protective equipment comprising special overalls, overshoes, masks, gloves, aprons and goggles, said Motsoaledi.

Government has also set up outbreak response teams in all provinces, while 25 healthcare workers have been trained on the Ebola virus disease in each of the 51 municipal districts.

The national department of health also holds teleconferences with provinces every week to discuss the situation on the ground.

Motsoaledi said this had helped to ensure that government was on top of its game.

So far, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) laboratory in Johannesburg has tested 14 people for Ebola in South Africa.

All 14 people tested negative. Three of the people were foreign nationals, two from Zimbabwe and one from Namibia.

Motsoaledi said the 14 were “tested as a precautionary measure”.

Professor Janusz Paweska, head of the special pathogens department at the institute, said: “The testing was part of our routine testing [for anyone with high fever and some bleeding] as they did not meet the clinical criteria of the Ebola virus disease. All of them tested negative, with the most common diagnosis being malaria and bacterial sepsis.”

Paweska assured South Africans that the chance of Ebola spilling into South Africa was low.

Even if it did so, he said, “we are more than ready to tackle it”.

“Surveillance has been strengthened, health officials have been trained, and the NICD has the capacity and infrastructure to conduct Ebola tests on a large scale,” added Paweska.

The NICD has been credited by the World Health Organisation as the referral centre for testing Ebola in southern Africa.

This means that all suspected cases of Ebola from neighbouring countries will be tested at the NICD Modderfontein laboratories.

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