–As Liberia’s Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan calls for border closure
By Robin Dopoe and Jana-Astrid Schäfer
The World Health Organization has warned Liberia and six other African counties to be alert for possible Ebola infection as case continue to climb in Guinea.
The alert, which was issued yesterday, comes after Guinea report 10 additional suspected cases of the Ebola virus and five deaths.
According to the WHO’s Margaret Harris, they have alerted Liberia including Sierra Leone to prepare for the cross-border transmission of the virus from Guinea, as the virus now spread outside of Goueké.
“We have already alerted the six countries around, including of course Sierra Leone and Liberia, and they are moving very fast to prepare and be ready and to look for any potential infection,” the WHO’s Margaret Harris told a Geneva briefing on Tuesday.
Margaret further that it has begun gene sequencing of Ebola samples from both Congo and Guinea to learn more about the origins of the outbreaks and identify the strains. However, Margaret who fall short to name the other countries the alert has been issued to disclosed that health authorities in Guinea had identified close to 109 Ebola contacts.
“We don’t know if this is down to Ebola persisting in the human population or if it’s simply moving again from the animal population but the genetic sequencing that’s ongoing will help with that information,” she added.
GoL, No Closing Border
However, government of Liberia has rejected called from Liberians and the medical community to close the country border with Guinea rather it as “heightened surveillance with specific attention placed on counties bordering Guinea.”
In a press release, the government noted that the relevant health authorities in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, have dispatched rapid teams comprising epidemiologists (human and animal), Laboratory Technologists, Risk Communicators, Infection, Prevention, and Control Specialists, to support the County Health Teams in Nimba, Lofa, and Grand Mount Counties.
“Infection, Prevention, and Control (IPC) supplies are also prepositioned to bordering counties. While there is no case of Ebola currently in Liberia, we encourage the public to return to the practice of all Ebola prevention measures,” the government said.
On Sunday, February 14, 2021, the health authority in Guinea confirmed and declared an outbreak of Ebola in seven patients, connected to the burial ceremony of a nurse who died on January 28, 2021, and buried on February 1, 2021, in Goueké, a town that is less than 75 kilometers away from the mining town of Yekepa in Nimba County, Liberia.
Guinea, since declaring an Ebola outbreak on Sunday, has announced that it has identified 115 contacts of the known cases in the southeastern city of Nzerekore and 10 in the capital Conakry.
Gouécké is approximately 145 kilometers north of Ganta, Nimba County (approximately 3 hours’ drive) and less than 75 kilometers from Yekepa, Nimba County (approximately 1 hour 35 minutes’ drive). Ganta the most vibrant commercial city in Liberia, second only to Monrovia, sees a high amount of human and vehicular traffic between there and Nzérékoré a commercial center that is just 45 minutes drive south of Gouécké.
Guinea was the country of origin of the 2014 Ebola virus which ended with more than 28,600 cases and about 11,325 deaths according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, Liberia Infectious Disease Scientist Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan has called on the government of Liberia to introduce tougher measures and close all land board with Guinea to avoid spillover of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea.
Ahead of the WHO alert, Dr. Nyan noted that due to the high volume of cross-border trade between Liberia and Guinea, the government needs to just close its borders as well as fast-tracking the purchase of Ebola vaccine for immunization, to avoid disaster in case a cross-border transmission occurred.
“Ebola is not COVID-19. Delay in closing the borders would be a repeat of 2014, which resulted in thousands of deaths after the then government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ernest Bai Koroma’s delay in shouting down the border, which contributed to the cross-border transmission of Ebola into Liberia and Sierra Leone,” Dr. Nyan said in responding to questions from journalists during an interview yesterday.
Dr. Nyan, who is Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of Shufflex Biomed said that Liberia particularly faces a complex public health problem with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has recently been compounded by reported cases of polio in the country.
“This could spell out grave consequences should we have the transmission in Liberia, he continued in an unvaccinated population,” Dr. Nyan argued. Tougher surveillance measures including massive testing and contact tracing are needed now. The county healthcare system is weak, so it makes no sense to delay in shouting the border because of no case. Prevention is better than cure.”
Dr. Nyan added that Liberia and its Mano River Union countries need to pool financial and material resources as well as expertise to mount an urgent coordinated response to this resurgence of Ebola, instead of always waiting for ‘stakeholders’ and donors.
He further cautioned that, “these governments should not run their healthcare and public health responses by always relying on charitable donations; they need to invest heavily in the science and innovation, medicine, and public health capicities.”
During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, Dr. Nyan testified before the United States Congress and suggest a road map to ending the outbreak including the establishment of the African Centers for Disease Control and National Public Health Institutes around the regions.
He is the winner of the 2017 African Innovation Prize for Social Impact and also awarded a Patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for his invention of the rapid multiplex pathogens diagnostic test, which can simultaneously detect and identify multiple infections, including Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Dengue virus, and Coronaviruses (COVID-19), among others. He served as a member of the Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) during the Ebola Vaccine trials.
Moreover, the US Food and Drug Administration approved an Ebola virus vaccine after the trials were complete in the Democratic Republic of Congo and found it to be 100% effective in preventing Ebola cases with symptom onset greater than 10 days after vaccination.