Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT -

When it was put to Ben­son that even a rough tally of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in SA would sug­gest that our en­try ports and bor­ders were highly por­ous, he said this de­scrip­tion could only be fairly ap­plied to the coun­try’s land bor­ders. He said that be­cause of SA and her im­me­di­ate neigh­bours’ ge­o­graphic dis­tance from West Africa – and the sud­den and se­vere na­ture of Ebola – it was “highly un­likely” that peo­ple with the virus would en­ter via ad­mit­tedly por­ous land bor­ders. This as­sess­ment is sup­ported by at least one his­tor­i­cal event lo­cally and the known cur­rent non-African health­care worker cases be­ing treated in the US and Europe. The doc­tor who mirac­u­lously sur­vived Ebola in­fec­tion in 1996 af­ter re­fer­ring him­self to a Jo­han­nes­burg hos­pi­tal af­ter be­ing f lown from his work­place in Li­bre­ville, Gabon, and en­tered SA via Lanse­ria Air­port. Upon land­ing he was re­ported as suf­fer­ing from an “un­known fever­ish ill­ness” with jaun­dice. A nurse at the pri­vate Sand­ton clinic, who at­tended the surgery which he sub­se­quently un­der­went, was in­fected and died.

Last month, a se­ri­ously ill Amer­i­can Ebola pa­tient, Dr Ken Brantly, was evac­u­ated from Liberia via a spe­cially equipped med­i­cal plane to an At­lanta Hos­pi­tal iso­la­tion ward – the f irst Ebola vic­tim known to be on Amer­i­can soil. Just weeks later, a sec­ond Amer­i­can mis­sion­ary, Nancy Write­bol, was also evac­u­ated from Liberia to a spe­cial iso­la­tion unit at Emory Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal. Both are be­ing treated with an experimental drug, ZMapp, de­vel­oped by the sci­en­tists who f irst dis­cov­ered the

Ebola virus in 1976. The f i rst conf i rmed Ebola pa­tient to be treated in Europe is an el­derly Span­ish priest air­lifted from Liberia to a Madrid hos­pi­tal af­ter be­com­ing in­fected dur­ing aid work.

Blum­berg em­pha­sised that her unit worked hand in glove with the Lanse­ria med­i­cal emer­gency evac­u­a­tion out­fits, adding that “we have a rig­or­ous process, help with their eval­u­a­tion and have lots of dis­cus­sions with them. Some­times it is not what it seems and they call us for ad­vice.” She said tem­per­a­ture scan­ning at com­mer­cial air­ports had “ma­jor lim­i­ta­tions”, be­cause if an EVD pa­tient was still in­cu­bat­ing the virus and was asymp­to­matic, they won’t pick it up. “It’s one way to tell peo­ple that you’re ac­tu­ally do­ing some­thing, but it’s not very effective. I mean with the SARS out­break, mil­lions of trav­ellers were screened and they only picked up one or two – the yield is very low,” she said. HEALTH­CARE WORK­ERS URGED TO BE ‘EBOLA-WISE’ Blum­berg said that her unit re­ceived daily calls for ad­vice on pa­tients, af­firm­ing a “gen­eral aware­ness” among health­care work­ers of vi­ral haem­or­rhagic fevers i n SA where Congo Fever was en­demic. Re-em­pha­sis­ing that one needed to touch or han­dle an Ebola-in­fected per­son or a body, suf­fer a nee­dle-stick in­jury or be splashed in the eyes with their bod­ily f lu­ids, she said it would be im­prac­ti­cal and hugely ex­pen­sive for her lab­o­ra­tory, the lead­ing one of its kind in Africa, to test all the min­ers who were wor­ried. She ex­plained that by min­ers, she meant the hun­dreds of South African (and other non-West

Dr Frew Ben­son

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