The Ebola outbreak situation is said to have now improved in Lofa County, Liberia’s Ebola ‘ground zero’. This disclosure was made Thursday by the medical charity group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has been in the forefront of the fight against the Ebola virus disease (EVD).
MSF said because the situation has improved in Lofa, which was one of the hardest hit counties, they have decided to withdraw.
The group also said that because “new actors” have arrived and ready to take over remaining activities and surveillance in the area, they decided to withdraw from Lofa County and redirect their efforts to areas with greater unmet needs, including supporting the health center so they can reopen.
They said that as they prepared for departure from Lofa, their team started reorganizing the Ebola Management Center (EMC), by gradually decreasing bed capacity from 85 to 10 beds and by reducing the number of national and international staff.
MSF, which runs a 240-bed Ebola Management Center known as ELWA 3 in Paynesville, disclosed that since October 30th, there have been no more Ebola patients in the EMC in Foya, Lofa County.
“The success of MSF’s intervention in northern Liberia can be considered a model of response, benefitting from a comprehensive approach and constant community involvement,” the group said in a release.
MSF stated that when they took over the management of the EMC in Foya in August 2014, their teams were not only faced with an overflowing patient load of up to 130 people daily, but also had to deal with the population’s fear, denial and misinformation, as the people had never experienced an Ebola outbreak before.
“Soon it became clear that the intervention could not only focus on isolating patients but that MSF needed to take a comprehensive and transparent approach if the virus was to be contained. Hence, the teams started to work on all six pillars of Ebola management, including isolation, outreach, safe burials, health promotion, psycho-social support and contact tracing,” MSF said.
Ebola is one of those illnesses, which deeply affect family and community structures, forcing people to stop the most natural gestures like caring for their sick relatives or paying their last respects to the deceased.
“We are convinced that our all-encompassing approach, including open and transparent cooperation with communities, local authorities and partners, has led to this impressive reduction in the number of cases in Lofa County,” says Ettore Mazzanti, MSF Project Coordinator in Foya. “Trust and the understanding of the communities have been very important for the acceptance of our medical activities and, ultimately, in successfully containing the virus. Without understanding and adapted coping behaviors, it is impossible to reach zero cases.”
MSF said in Lofa County, as in the rest of Liberia, the entire health system collapsed as a result of the epidemic, so to support the local health system, they donated Ebola protection kits to health structures and focused on training health staff in Foya, Kolahun and Vahun districts, in Ebola patient care, including case definition, isolation and supportive care, as well as on protective measures and infection control.
“Health workers have been decimated by the epidemic and we must ensure that the remaining staff can return to work with confidence”, says Mazzanti.
MSF, which also operates a 10-bed Transit Unit close to Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, stated that by December 10, all of its activities in the Lofa areas had ceased, as they had been completed and handed over to the Ministry of Health and its partners.
“It is great to see that life has almost returned to normal around here but there are definitely mixed feelings in the Lofa community,” observes Mazzanti. “On the one hand, with MSF moving out, people are confident that the situation has improved. But on the other hand, people are concerned about the situation in bordering Guinea and Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is still ongoing. Also, with Christmas coming, people will be travelling a lot and there will be more gatherings, meaning that the risks of contamination will increase. We must definitely not lower our guard and we must remain vigilant.”
Since March, MSF has admitted more than 6,500 people, of whom approximately 4,134 tested positive for Ebola and 1,796 have recovered. MSF currently has some 300 international staff working in the region and employs 3,125 locally hired staff.
Liberia’s Incident Management System head and Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services, Att’y Tolbert G. Nyenswah, thanked MSF and other partners for their hard work in Lofa. Min. Nyenswah buttressed MSF that they have withdrawn from Lofa because in over 40 days, the county has not recorded a single EVD case. “They have decided to now focus their attention on other areas. But if anything sparks up in Lofa, MSF would be willing to go back there to help.”
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest situation report on the epidemic in the three hardest hit nations, Liberia has recorded 7,719 cases with reported deaths of 3177; Guinea with 1428 deaths from 2292 recorded cases. Sierra Leone, which has over taken Liberia with highest recorded cases—7897— reported deaths stand at 1768.
WHO: “There have been 17942 reported cases of EVD, with 6388 reported deaths. Case incidence is slightly increasing in Guniea, decreasing in Liberia and may be increasing or stable in Sierra Leone.”