West Africa battles ‘post-ebola syndrome’
MONROVIA — As the Ebola epidemic retreats across West Africa, international health authorities are turning their attention to the little understood long-term effects of the often-deadly virus on the survivors.
There is little research on patients cured of the tropical fever, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that many are experiencing crippling complications long after walking out of treatment units.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’S new head in Africa, told AFP that Liberian survivors had been reporting a range of problems, including sight and hearing impairment.
“We need to be aware that (complications) may be occurring and pay attention when people are being treated in case there is something that can be done to help them,” she told AFP in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
Ms Moeti said the un agency had initially focused on keeping people alive in its battle against the worst ever outbreak of the virus, which it says has left almost 11 000 people dead in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
“So we are very much learning about this,” Ms Moeti told AFP.
More than 26 000 people have been infected with Ebola since the outbreak began in December 2013, according to the WHO, which admits the official mortality figures are probably some way short of the real death toll.
The epidemic ravaged the three countries, infecting hundreds of people a week during its peak last autumn, but the spread has slowed to a crawl.
Liberia, once the hardest hit country, has reported no new cases since the last patient died on March 27 and was buried a day later.
‘Patients are now blind’ worst-hit countries.
The epidemic has dwarfed all previous outbreaks combined — fewer than 2,500 cases were recorded between Ebola’s discovery in 1976 and the current outbreak — and has killed around two-thirds of those infected, experts believe.
While survivors of previous outbreaks reported health complications, past epidemics were never big enough to warrant in-depth research into the after-effects.
A rare upside of the scale of the current outbreak has been that there are thousands of survivors who can be studied to give health authorities the knowledge to be better prepared for future outbreaks.
Ms Moeti, a qualified medic who took up her five-year appointment in February, says the WHO is just beginning to play catch-up in its research into post-ebola complications.
“I think this is something about which we need to learn more in detail for the future so that... as part of treating people with Ebola we are looking out for these kind of symptoms,” she told AFP.
“Because I think in the first acute treatment of people with Ebola our focus (was) on keeping them alive and perhaps these other symptoms emerged later on.” — AFP
Liberia’s last known ebola patient beatrice Yardolo (in yellow) at the chinese ebola treatment unit where she was treated last month, in Monrovia, Liberia