On 14 February, the government of Guinea declared an Ebola outbreak after three people tested positive in Gouécké, a rural community. As of 2 March, 17 cases have been reported (13 confirmed and four probable) with seven deaths.
Thankfully, Guinea’s ministry of health and public hygiene has acted swiftly to set up three nearby vaccination sites, each with the capacity to inoculate 100 people daily – the first time an Ebola vaccine has been deployed in the country. As of 28 February, 1002 people had been vaccinated in Guinea, including 66 high-risk people that had been in contact with suspect cases.
“In the coming days, we will be able to vaccinate more people in order to contain this pandemic properly,” says Bachir Kanté, an official at the health ministry.
The Ebola virus is more deadly than the coronavirus, but spreads less quickly, providing West Africa with a grace period to control its spread, says Christian Happi at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Ede, Nigeria.
“Our collective, quick action is crucial to averting an uncontrolled spread of Ebola,” says Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa.
Guinea’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2014, spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. By the time it was finally brought under control, it had become the deadliest Ebola outbreak since the virus was first detected in 1976, with about 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.
The latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea is close to its borders with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, so neighbouring countries are increasing their preparedness to contain the spread of the outbreak.
The Guinean outbreak is happening at the same time as an unrelated outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC held about 8000 vaccine doses for emergency use after its last outbreak in 2020, and has already begun to deploy them.
Both nations are tackling their outbreaks on top of dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Guinea has seen 16,005 confirmed covid-19 cases and 89 deaths, while DRC has had 25,144 cases and 700 deaths.
Vaccination strategies against the two viruses differ, says John Nkenkasong at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention“For covid-19, you want to vaccinate as many people as many to be able to achieve herd immunity but for Ebola, you want to identify close contacts and individuals at most risk for ring vaccination exercise,” he said.
Kanté says that Guinea’s covid-19 response has benefited from capabilities for contact tracing and testing that were acquired during its 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, while the ongoing Ebola vaccination efforts are helping the country test efforts that could be deployed for covid-19 vaccinations, which have yet to begin.
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