Working with communities to contain Ebola

Screening for fever. WHO.

Guinea | 2021 | CERF

Guinea,N’Zerekore. A few days after he referred one of his patients to the regional hospital, Dr. Emmanuel Goepogui, a private practitioner in N’Zerekore prefecture in south-eastern Guinea, received a visit from a community disease surveillance team. “They came to inform me that my patient had tested positive for Ebola and that I was a direct contact … I was then vaccinated along with my family members. After 21 days of follow-up, I was told that I was safe.”

Ebola re-emerged in Guinea on 14 February, the first time since the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa. With CERF funding, the health authorities, in collaboration with teams from WHO and partner agencies, swiftly set up a community disease surveillance system alongside other Ebola prevention and control measures. Tracking the spread – identifying who has developed symptoms, where they live and who they have been in contact with – is a key part of curbing the virus. It helps in detecting cases quickly and isolating any close contacts.

The disease surveillance teams go into communities to seek out suspected Ebola cases. This includes any person, alive or dead, who is presenting or has presented with a sudden onset of fever and at least three other symptoms of Ebola. “I have reported an average of 15 suspected cases a day to [Ebola case] investigators,” explains Dr Kebe Kalivogui, one of the 43 experts trained to find cases by WHO and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, alerts for suspected cases remain low and deaths in communities are not always reported to the health authorities. Fear of being stigmatized, or traditional or religious practices, sometimes undermine Ebola prevention measures. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. In N’zerekore, a community engagement team is working to overcome people’s reluctance to engage in Ebola prevention measures.

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