West Africa bat­tles ‘post-ebola syn­drome’

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

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

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