Marburg virus has killed 244 but fatalities are decreasing

Some 244 people have succumbed to the highly contagious and deadly Marburg virus but fatality rates are decreasing, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has reported.

Speaking to reporters from Angola — the epicentre of the current outbreak — as well as Geneva, experts at a teleconference on Saturday cautioned against complacency.

“In the last week we have seen the average number of cases drop from about 35 per week to 15,” said Dr. Fatoumata Binta T. Diallo, WHO’s representative in Angola. “This is good news, but it doesn’t mean that the outbreak is over.”

She warned that the apparent progress could foster careless behaviour. “In past outbreaks, we knew that the perception that the battle has been won had led to people lowering their guard,” she said. “As long as there remains one single case of Marburg virus in Angola, we will not be able to say that the situation is completely under control.”

Dr. Diallo credited the regional and international response mobilized by WHO with slowing down the spread of the virus. Experts from Brazil, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Kosovo, have travelled to Uige, the main region hit by the epidemic, while lab work has been done in Canada.

At the same time, she praised Angolan health professionals for their ever-increasing role in battling the virus.

Dr. Nestor Ndayimiridje, the team leader for Marburg epidemic response in Uige province, said the main difficulty had been trepidation among the local population. “The community is in fear, they have a lot of questions, and we’ve been trying to work with them,” he said.

There is currently only one neighbourhood where there remains “some hostility vis-a-vis the technical teams,” he said. Others have come to understand the importance of responding to the outbreak thanks to community groups, provincial authorities, and traditional leaders who have joined forces to help the population better understand the outbreak.

Dr. Pierre Formenty, who is also working in Angola, said experts had been able to draw on experience gained during the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a few years ago. One critical lesson involved the behaviour of medical teams in handling dead bodies in front of the relatives concerned. “Within the team, we have sessions in which we are shown how to be more friendly and compassionate with the families and with the patients,” he said.

Experts also learned that plastic sheeting is associated with death, so they are using fences in the isolation wards instead. “These fences are 1.50 metres high so that people can come and see what we are doing and see that we are not killing the people,” Dr. Formenty said. “Also we give protective gear and we allow one person per family to come with us in the isolation ward where we have Marburg cases to visit them, talk to them, like any visit.”

This “humanizing approach” has prompted a positive response among the local population, he said.

He said he had a “a gut feeling that maybe things are going to be better.”

From United Nationa

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