Angola: Marburg virus still spreading, 180 dead

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Saturday, April 9, 2005

The UN health body needs US$2.4 million to support the Ministry of Health in Angola.

Marburg virus is still spreading in Angola, and 180 are now dead, according to recent information from the World Health Organisation (WHO). [1] The disease is similar to the Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever (EHF) virus in its symptoms, though less deadly and slower to spread — which has lead to more deaths overall. Because Marburg kills more slowly, a victim has more time to make contact with potential hosts.

The incurable, though not always fatal, disease is passed on by contact with bodily fluids, including spit and blood. Victims bleed to death.

As of yesterday, 205 cases had been identified, with at least 180 fatalities. The disease is now present in seven of Angola's provinces, the latest outbreak occurring in Zaire province with six cases. The proportion of deaths in this outbreak was unusually high. [2]

According to the WHO, "The dramatic symptoms of Marburg haemorrhagic fever and its frequent fatality are resulting in a high level of fear, which is further aggravated by a lack of public understanding of the disease."

Mobile surveillance teams in Uige, where the majority of cases have been located [3], were unable to investigate several reported deaths, or to ensure the still-contagious bodies were appropriately dealt with, after transportation vehicles were attacked and damaged by local residents.

Said the WHO through a press release, "Because the disease has no cure, hospitalization is not associated with a favourable outcome, and confidence in the medical care system has been eroded.

"WHO is familiar with such reactions, which have been seen during previous outbreaks of the closely related Ebola haemorrhagic fever. Two medical anthropologists are already in Uige and will be joined shortly by experts in social mobilization from Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique. Public compliance with control measures is not expected to improve in the absence of intense campaigns to educate the public about the disease."

Provincial authorities were being engaged in an attempt to urgently find solutions.

WHO was appealing, via the United Nations (UN), for funding. The UN health body currently needs US$2.4 million to support the Ministry of Health, Angola.

Some 50 international experts were deployed in Angola, a country where 27 years of civil war has left health systems and staff unable to cope with a major epidemic, according to Mike Ryan, director of WHO's alert and response operations.

"The situation right now in Angola is not under control yet...This is still a health crisis at the national level and requires a profound commitment both from national authorities and the international community in order to contain this disease," he said.

Two deaths had been confirmed in Luanda, Angola's capital of 4 million, and six more cases were being investigated there.

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