Just days after Guinea confirmed West Africa’s first case of Marburg virus disease, a person traveling from the country tested positive for Ebola in Côte d’Ivoire, attracting the focus of the global health community once again.
The detection of Ebola represents Côte d’Ivoire’s first case of the illness in more than 25 years. It also comes after Guinea declared an end to an Ebola outbreak of its own in June — an announcement that marked the first time in months that Africa had been Ebola-free.
Dr. Georges Ki-Zerbo, the World Health Organization’s representative in Guinea, told Devex that improved surveillance — which helped the region quickly identify the new cases — will also likely result in the detection of other diseases in the future.
“The [Marburg] case was found in Guinea, but it could have been in another country,” he said. “It was known that Marburg was harbored by bats, for example, in caves in the [Parrot’s Beak] area … between Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.”
Though West Africa has often seen disease emergence and reemergence, the good news is that Guinea and other countries in the region have significantly improved their disease surveillance strategies and gained epidemiological capacities that enable quick detection of outbreaks before they escalate, Ki-Zerbo said.
He also stressed the importance of enhancing these capacities through the “one health” approach — in which multiple disciplines collaborate locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals, and nature.
“As part of the one health threats — human, animal, and environment complex — you will have events. What is important is preparedness, detection, preparation and response capacities,” he said.
Even though the approach has been recognized and recommended by key stakeholders in global health, it is still not widely used in many parts of Africa, including regions that are seeing diseases transmitted from animals to people. This may be because hunting, logging, agriculture, and similar activities in which humans interact with the environment are difficult to control, Ki-Zerbo said, but public awareness and education could help.
The concurrence of COVID-19, Marburg virus disease, and Ebola surveillance is stretching the health system in Guinea, he said. But similarities in the responses to the diseases are enabling local health authorities to introduce measures that cut across all the outbreaks.
“If you take community-based interventions and preventive measures such as physical distance, infection prevention, and control in our [health] facilities, you’d find that these approaches are the same for all these diseases,” he said. “The problem is risk communication and making sure that our communities do not feel fatigue in terms of multiple interventions targeting them.”