‘Africa on its own’: Little help in epidemics, official says

KABALA, Uganda (AP) — Africa must plan to respond effectively to disease outbreaks without international aid, a top public health official said Wednesday, warning that the continent of 1.3 billion people is “on its own” during pandemics.

As aid often never materializes, African nations must fill the gaps in their response to outbreaks like Ebola in Ugandasaid Ahmed Ogwell, deputy head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is not the first outbreak of the Sudanese strain of the Ebola virus here in Africa and especially here in Uganda,” he said. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have a rapid diagnosis for this particular strain. We don’t even have the vaccines for it.”

Ogwell spoke in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where African public health officials and others are meeting to plan cross-border cooperation in the fight against Ebola.

Uganda declared an Ebola outbreak on September 20.

Africa’s 54 countries have not received enough international support in recent health crises, experts say. Countries have struggled to make vaccines for COVID-19.

Ogwell lamented the failure of the international community to help African countries improve their capacity to test for monkeypox and control its spread. He said no help had come to Africa, where more monkeypox deaths have been reported this year than anywhere else in the world.

“Recently, during the pandemic, when we saw the number of cases of monkeypox increasing here in Africa, we issued a global alert, but no help came to Africa,” he said. “In fact, today, as we see the end of the pandemic, there is still no help in Africa for monkeypox. That means we have to check the reality that is with us, and the reality for us is that when a public health crisis is big, like the pandemic, Africa is on its own.”

The epicenter of the Ebola epidemic in Uganda is a rural community in central Uganda, where health workers were not quick to detect the contagious disease that manifests as viral hemorrhagic fever.

Although Ebola began spreading in August, officials initially described it as a “strange disease” that kills people. Ebola has now infected 54 people and killed at least 19, including four health workers. One of his victims is a man who sought treatment at a hospital in Kampala and died there.

Ebola can be hard to spot at first because fever is also a symptom of malaria. Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or contaminated materials. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.

There is no proven vaccine for the Sudanese strain of Ebola. However, plans are underway to test a potential vaccine in a small group of Ugandans who have had contact with Ebola patients.

Because Ebola is a “priority disease” for Africa, “the absence of a rapid diagnosis and the absence of a vaccine means we have a gap in how we prioritize our diseases and the tools we need to respond to them,” according to Ogwell.

“As Africa, we must now do things differently, realizing that most of the time we will be on our own. Knowing that we are alone, though, should motivate us to be able to do things alone, but not alone,” he said. “We must plan, prepare and respond effectively using our own resources, including our experts and institutions, and we must produce the health products we have identified as a priority for this continent.”

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