South Africa steps up Ebola precautions

14 August 2014

South Africa’s Department of Health has put in place extensive measures for early detection and treatment of Ebola, in case the need arises, says Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi met with Parliament’s portfolio committee on health in Cape Town on Tuesday to briefed the members on South Africa’s state of preparedness, should the virus enter the country.

A total of 1 848 cases and 1 013 deaths have been confirmed since the Ebola outbreak was reported in West Africa in March. On 8 August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Ebola an international public health emergency that required international support for affected countries.

The WHO recommended that countries which are not affected, but have the potential for transmission, strengthen their level of epidemic preparedness and response. It also recommended the strengthening of capacity for diagnostic laboratories for Ebola, and the training of community health workers on case management and infection prevention and control.

Motsoaledi told the committee members that no cases of Ebola had so far been reported in South Africa. “We [are not] at the level of panic,” he said.

“Risk of infection for travellers is low, since Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is not transmitted through casual contact,” Motsoaledi said. “However, preparedness and response measures are needed due to the spread of EVD cases to capital cities.”

Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have been identified as the provinces at the highest risk of importing Ebola, the priority ports of entry being the OR Tambo International, Lanseria, Cape Town International and King Shaka International airports.

Surveillance for viral haemorrhagic fevers, in particular Ebola, has been strengthened at all South African ports of entry, and thermal scanners have been installed at OR Tambo and Lanseria.

The National Health Laboratory Service and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases have also intensified laboratory surveillance, and the port health services, including public and private health care practitioners, are on alert for any ill persons that have travelled to high-risk areas.

All provinces have trained outbreak response teams, and regular meetings are convened at national level to monitor the Ebola outbreak and preparedness measures.

Eleven hospitals have been designated to manage Ebola cases, and supplied with personal protective equipment comprising special overalls, over-shoes, masks, gloves, aprons and goggles.

The 11 hospitals are: Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo province; Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga; the Charlotte Maxeke and Steve Biko hospitals in Guateng; Addington Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal; Klerksdorp Hospital in North West; Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State; Kimberley Hospital in the Northern Cape; the Frere and Livingstone hospitals in the Eastern Cape; and Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape.

Approximately 100 nurses from the South African Military Health Service have been trained in special isolation techniques, as have aeromedical evacuation teams who are on standby to fetch and transport Ebola patients using transport isolator and intensive care equipment.

Meanwhile, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) has urged people using social media to stop spreading rumours about Ebola cases in South Africa.

“Rumours such as these are causing panic and confusion,” SAMA president Phophi Ramathuba said in a statement on Wednesday. “We call upon the nation and especially health professionals not to make light of a disease that has claimed over 1 000 victims already.”