WHO ramps up to address Ebola challenges, to prevent new infections in Guinea and Liberia

Protecting health workers one of top priorities

April 2014

As the Ebola outbreak evolves in Guinea and Liberia, WHO continues to expand its activities by sending additional expertise to assist in all areas of the response.

More than 65 public health experts are working with WHO and its Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) partners, assisting ministries of health and other partners in the 2 countries. This work includes supporting clinical management of patients, contact tracing, disease surveillance, laboratory work, logistics, as well as communications and sharing of information to help people living in communities protect themselves from the disease.

WHO is training health wokers in Guinea on infection control and prevention.

To date, more than 220 patients have become ill in the region and about 135 have died. More than 100 cases are laboratory confirmed to be Ebola. Although this is not the largest outbreak ever, given its spread across 2 countries, the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Liberia is one of the most challenging WHO and its partners have ever faced. For example, tracing people who have had contact with sick people requires finding more than 640 people in 6 areas in Guinea and 4 in Liberia, and sometimes across the borders of the 2 countries.

Preventing new infections

In addition to caring for the current patients, new infections must be prevented in order to contain the outbreak. Raising awareness of the risk factors for infection and the protective measures that should be taken is the only way to stop transmission and subsequent deaths. Close unprotected physical contact with Ebola patients should be avoided, and those who have died from the disease should be promptly and safely buried.

“One of priority areas of work is to train health workers in affected countries on how they can protect themselves when they provide care for the sick,” says Pierre Formenty, one of WHO’s experts in Ebola. “So far in Guinea, 24 health workers have been affected and 13 of them have died. Because Ebola outbreaks have not occurred in this area before, many health workers are not experienced in caring for these patients. Protecting their health is crucial to succeeding in the control of this Ebola outbreak.”

In Conakry, public health experts from WHO, GOARN and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are supporting national medical and nursing staff at the Donka Hospital to improve patient triage and care, case management and infection prevention and control.

"One of priority areas of work is to train health workers in affected countries on how they can protect themselves when they provide care for the sick."

Pierre Formenty, WHO

Training on the safe handling of patients with Ebola and those who have died is also organized for staff working at the morgue, and for drivers and staff transporting patients. Training for the directors of all 20 health centres in Conakry and for health workers from non-affected regions of Guinea (Lola, Yomou, Beyla et Nzérékoré) is planned this week.

Similar work is underway in Liberia, where WHO and the GOARN team have conducted visits to 2 hospitals in Montserrado County, and held training in patient triage and care and infection prevention and control.

Ebola is a severe acute viral illness that can have a case fatality rate of up to 90%. No vaccine is available, nor is there any specific treatment. It is characterized by sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, nausea and sore throat. This can be followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes, or intravenous fluids.