Bong County, still reeling from the grievous impact of the Ebola virus that claimed over a hundred lives, is now confronted with an outbreak of Buruli Ulcer which is trying to edge its way into center stage.
While it is not a fast killer like Ebola, the Buruli Ulcer is a chronic infection manifested by large sores that can cause permanent deformity if not treated early and meticulously. And it is spreading in Bong County, threatening primarily children under 15, who are the most susceptible.
Announcing the outbreak last Friday, the county's Chief Health Administrator, Dr. Samson Azoakoi, described buruli ulcer as "a chronic skin and lenient tissue infection that
causes weakness and can lead to permanent deformity and disability."
When the Daily Observer first heard of the outbreak last week, the name of the disease was yet unknown, but as our front page photo in Wednesday's edition showed, the disease is indicated by the hideous sores that break out on the body. As Dr. Azaokoi explains, the disease leads to devastation of the skin, including the soft tissue with large ulcers on the legs and arms.
Dr. Azaokoi gave our Bong Correspondent Marcus Malayea an even more alarming revelation: "The disease is caused by infection with mycobacterium ulcerans, an organism belonging to the family of bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. He warned that the disease could cause long-term disability and that if it is not immediately contained, it could affect many children.
So far the disease has been discovered in Ziansue, Bong County's Yellequelle District. Ziansue is the town that lies between Totota and Gbatala on the road to Gbarnga.
The Chief Health Officer's warning should be taken seriously. Health and Social Welfare Minister (MOH), Dr. Walter Gwenigale, who is himself a son of Bong, told the Daily Observer Wednesday that he knew of the disease, but did not know that there were any new cases in Liberia.
We are certain that he has already consulted with the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn and other colleagues in the Ministry to decide the most appropriate and effective response to this new and growing illness.
Whatever the response, we hope it will be effective, immediate and decisive so that this other infection does not get out of control. If necessary, the World Health Organization (WHO) should be alerted in a bid to mobilize resources to contain and arrest the spread of buruli ulcer in the county and wherever else it may be lurking in the country.
If the disease is contagious, then victims should be immediately quarantined.
TB and leprosy, which are caused by the same family of microbes that cause the buruli ulcer, are not new to Bong County. Since the early 1960s, there has been a leper colony in Suacoco, where Cuttington University, the Central Agricultural Institute (CARI) and Phebe Hospital are located.
The sooner we can arrest the spread of this new disease outbreak, the better. It will demonstrate that we have learned from our Ebola experience–that a stitch in time saves nine